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Residents: Put moratorium on large dairy
About two dozen opponents of a proposed dairy with up to 5,800 cows sit in the audience of Tuesday's meeting of the Green County Board of Supervisors. The group was not on the agenda and did not speak but held small signs calling for more review of the proposal. (Times photo: Mary Jane Grenzow)
MONROE - Green County residents opposed to a large-scale dairy operation in Sylvester Township want the county to enact a temporary moratorium to allow more time to study its potential environmental impact.

About two dozen people attended the Green County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. Several held small signs voicing their concerns, primarily the risk to groundwater, if the dairy with up to 5,800 cows earns county and state approval.

At issue is a proposal from Todd Tuls and his son T.J. Tuls, who own and operate Rock Prairie Dairy which milks just fewer than 5,000 cows in Rock County. They hope to build a plant that's a mirror image on County FF near Decatur-Sylvester Road, northwest of Brodhead. The senior Tuls milks 10,000 cows in Nebraska, and he makes frequent trips to Wisconsin, according to The Janesville Gazette.

As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, Tuls had not submitted his application to the county, said Todd Jensen, Green County's conservationist in the land and water conservation department.

Jensen said he understands that Tuls plans to have his application materials submitted to the county by the end of September. From that point, Jensen has 30 days to go through the application for manure storage and either grant or deny permission. The dairy also has to submit an application for a livestock siting permit.

The dairy operators must also submit application materials to the state Department of Natural Resources. Jensen said he does not think that material has been submitted. A public hearing will also be required.

Jensen said he couldn't estimate how long the permitting process might take. "It all depends on how well the application is prepared," he said. If information is missing, the application goes back to the Tuls and has to be re-submitted.

Some residents want to stop the permitting process in its tracks - at least long enough to find out more.

The topic was not on the board's agenda, but county board member Betty Grotophorst, who represents District 29 in the Brooklyn and Exeter townships, asked her fellow supervisors to investigate the proposal more thoroughly.

She said board members should consider the potential impact that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) can have. Initial reports said there would be 5,000 cows at the facility, but that number is now believed to be closer to 5,800 when bred heifers are included. The proposed facility will be 160 acres, or the equivalent of 211 football fields, she said. It will require 240,000 gallons of water per day and each cow could produce about 60 pounds of manure per day.

The county should revisit its zoning laws and land conservation ordinances to address CAFOs, she said.

But fellow board member Harvey Mandel said the county is limited in what it can do.

"We had a good policy," he said, referring to the county's previous ordinance that restricted large-scale dairies to 750 animals. "But the state took that away from us," and the county can't make ordinances more restrictive.

The state took authority over large animal operations in 2006, explained corporation counsel Brian Bucholtz. There is a provision that a local municipality can place restrictions greater than the state if there is a threat to safety and health but proving that is difficult, he said.

"Hopefully the folks at the DNR know what they are doing," said county board chairman Art Carter.

Peg Sheaffer of Brodhead said opponents approached the county's land conservation committee last week, seeking a temporary moratorium, but the committee opted not to recommend the county board take up the issue. She said they were told "there's nothing we can do."

Sheaffer doesn't agree: The proposed dairy presents a very real threat to the area's groundwater and the county should pursue the health and safety provision to garner more time for review, she said.

She and others came to Tuesday's meeting to encourage further study into CAFOs and the Tuls' proposal. She'd like to see the county enact a temporary moratorium.

Pat Skogen agreed. A former dairy farmer in Sauk County who recently moved to Monroe, Skogen said the group isn't anti-dairying. In fact, many are farmers, she said, instead the issue is about the environmental impact of such large operations.

She said the DNR may ask for the environmental assurances, but the county should be requiring a stronger environmental impact statement to ensure groundwater is protected. The county should "take water samples, ask for verification," she said.

Both Skogen and Sheaffer said they don't want what happened in Kewaunee County, which has the state's largest concentration of CAFOs, to happen here.

Last fall, an administrative law judge in a suit brought by five Kewaunee County residents issued a ruling that blamed the DNR for "massive regulatory failure" in protecting groundwater in relation to CAFOs, according to a report published by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. In the ruling, Judge Jeff Boldt cited testimony that 50 percent of private wells in the town of Lincoln and 30 percent of private wells in the county are contaminated, and said it's reasonable to link at least some of that contamination to CAFO manure spreading.

Sheaffer said Green County needs to continue to talk about the issue and learn more.

"Size does matter. Concentration does matter," she said. "We can't let that happen here."