Legislative Committee Considers Manure Spreading Rules, J-1 Visas

The county legislative committee directed administrators to draft a resolution opposing the elimination of the J-1 visa program but will wait to act on the proposed manure spreading rules until they are considered by the Natural Resources Board.

Quick and unanimous consensus among committee members, with Dave Enigl absent, directed County Administrator Ken Pabich to work with legal counsel to draft a resolution opposing any reduction to the J-1 visa program.

“I think it’s something we have to have,” said committee member Roy Englebert. “Why they wanted to change it, I have no idea.”

President Donald Trump’s administration is considering elimination of the J-1 visa program in order to promote employment of American citizens before importing foreign help to fill the workforce shortage gap. More than 440 J-1 visa students worked in Door County in the 2017 season.

“Americans aren’t going to come to Door County and take those jobs,” said committee member Steve Sohns. “It just isn’t going to happen.”

Committee chair Susan Kohout suggested sending the letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, hoping to get some “home field advantage” with Ryan’s district located in Wisconsin.

Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin both signed onto a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opposing reduction of the program. Congressman Mike Gallagher has not yet spoken publicly on the subject, but has been in communication with local stakeholders in the J-1 visa program.

Prior to the Sept. 15 hearing on the DNR’s proposed manure spreading rules, Kohout said Rep. Joel Kitchens called her and asked for the committee to consider a resolution in support of the rules. Read more about the proposed rules in this news section.

“It’s a very, very important topic,” said Greg Coulthurst, conservationist with the Soil and Water Conservation Department (SWCD). “These are minimal rules we want to see for targeting groundwater protection.”

The Land Conservation Committee will further discuss the topic at their Sept. 21 meeting and they may send a resolution back to the Legislative Committee before going to the county board.

“I want to make sure everybody understands what the rules mean,” said Pabich. “Maybe there’s been a farm here for over 100 years where they might not be able to farm that way anymore.”

Sohns expressed concern about the effect of the drafted rules on small farms.

“I don’t know that I’m on board with it the way it’s proposed,” said Sohns. “You’re going after the little farmer. The little farmer isn’t the one that’s contaminating.”

Coulthurst and former SWCD department head Bill Schuster have consistently said the size of a farm does not matter in groundwater contamination.

“Your well doesn’t care how big of a farm the cow came from,” said Schuster just before his retirement in August 2016.

Coulthurst said the Tactical Advisory Committee, which first took up consideration of rewriting the rules, wanted stricter regulation of manure spreading than the ones being considered now.

“This isn’t going to be overnight and we all have to start planning on how it’s going to impact and how we’re going to solve some issues,” said Coulthurst.

The committee will wait until after the public hearings are completed and the proposed rules come before the Natural Resources Board before considering a resolution.

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