Supervisors Accept Grant to Improve Groundwater Quality

Brussels dairy farmer Dan Vandertie milks 40 cows with his wife and has a young son who’s coming back to the family farm business. He asked the Door County Board of Supervisors during its Tuesday meeting to reject a $286,272 Notice of Discharge (NOD) grant that was awarded to the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department (SWCD) to make improvements to his farm.

Vandertie gave a brief history of events during the public-comment period. He said in 1991, the SWCD designed a manure pit for his property that stored 1.2 million gallons of liquid manure. In 1995, he discovered water leaking into the unit, so he contacted the SWCD and the state, an alert he said was well documented.

Jumping forward to 2018, with Lake Michigan water levels high and lots of rain, Vandertie had to haul out more than 2 million gallons of manure when normally he hauls 800,000. He again contacted SWCD, and in April 2020, the SWCD and state and federal officials visited the farm, emptied the pit, documented the leaks and dug test pits. They discovered he had good clay, but fresh water was coming into the sides of the manure container. It would have to be replaced.

“Soil and Water [SWCD] did an inventory [of the farm] and didn’t like my heifer and calf barn being a dirt floor, so they wanted that replaced also,” Vandertie said.

He said the grant was a large sum of money, but the cost-share agreement may not even pay 70% of the project costs.

“It’s going to put a heavy burden on my farm,” he said.

If the supervisors declined the grant, it would give Vandertie time to talk with the county and state to find “the right amount so my farm can continue for the next generation.”

The Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection offer the NOD grants to governmental units such as the county, which works with owners and operators of livestock operations to meet pollution-control requirements. The grant money is used to cost-share eligible structural best management practices to control polluted runoff.

“There’s no question here that there’s a risk to groundwater and practices are needed,” said Erin Hanson, county conservationist.

Fixing water-pollution problems are expensive, and Hanson said it can be difficult for producers to make those improvements without cost-share dollars. The first step was to bring the money into the county, then work out a more detailed design of best management practices and associated costs.

“So we’re at the beginning of that process,” she said.

The supervisors unanimously accepted the grant after a long discussion with Hanson, who explained they were fortunate to have been selected for the competitive funding that counties apply for on a rolling basis. If they rejected the money, they could not offer cost-share dollars, and without that, “we can ask, but we can’t require” Vandertie to make the  improvements.

“We cannot require somebody to change a practice unless we offer 70% cost share,” Hanson said. “I don’t have that in my budget to offer.”

With the grant money accepted, the process will begin to negotiate a contractual agreement with Vandertie on improvements to be made and cost-share dollars allowed. A timeline is also established for compliance.

“We absolutely are willing to work with them,” Hanson said.