Last fall town boards in the county began considering an ordinance to ban the use of center-pivot irrigation systems for the spraying of liquid manure on farm lands, largely due to health concerns about drift from the spraying and acknowledged pathogens in manure that are harmful to human health.
Since then, five Door County towns have passed an ordinance banning the spraying of manure. It all began with the Clean Water Action Council (CWAC).
“Almost all of our issues are driven by members, or the community coming to us saying can you help us with this. That’s what happened, especially Kewaunee County residents who were alarmed about this,” said Dean Hoegger, president and executive director of Clean Water Action Council.
“The idea was to educate the community. We worked with that for about six or seven months, but because we’re more action oriented, going beyond education, we looked at how we could do something to prevent this from happening,” Hoegger said.
That meant Hoegger and other CWAC members going to town board meetings to help alert and educate people about the problems other areas are experiencing where pivot-center spraying is allowed.
“We did that at Sevastopol, Sturgeon Bay, Gardner and Brussels, all of whom have passed the ordinance,” Hoegger said. “We worked pretty closely with them and gave some feedback as to what we recommended should be in that ordinance to have a strong ordinance.”
Hoegger said the ordinance has “snowballed” from there.
“We had a resident in the Town of Liberty Grove who contacted us. We provided information to that resident and to the town board. And then the Town of Liberty Grove passed the ordinance. That is one town we didn’t testify at,” he said. “In Kewaunee County, the town of West Kewaunee, that town board got it on the agenda themselves. It also happened in the Door County Town of Union. They put it on the agenda. I spoke twice at Union and it sounds like they are moving forward as well.”
However, not every municipality has been interested in the ordinance, Hoegger said.
“We also presented in the towns of Forestville and Nasewaupee,” Hoegger said. “Strangely, those towns just outright rejected the idea, supposedly for different reasons.”
Nasewaupee Town Chair Steve Sullivan said the board doubted the information CWAC presented on the issue of spraying manure.
“I don’t think that information was correct,” he said. “One guy was telling us there is anthrax in the manure. If there was anthrax in the manure, the state would go in probably kill and burn all the cattle. When people come in and tell us stuff that’s obviously not true, you really start to not believe. They say if we don’t enact it now and someone comes in and does it, and it’s a problem, we can’t stop them. That’s just not true. We would have to prove it’s a nuisance or a hazard to win the case.”
Sullivan said he checked with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and they are looking at the issue and are expected to come out with a decision on spraying manure.
“That’s what we’re waiting on,” Sullivan said. “If there is a problem, they would probably regulate it. If they don’t we’ll do something about it.”
In Forestville, a resident brought a petition with 50 signatures of town residents, asking the board to approve the ban.
“For a small town that’s a lot of signatures,” Hoegger said, but added that Town Chair Roy Englebert “pretty much just dismissed it.”
Hoegger said he did not attend the Forestville meeting because at a previous meeting he was referred to as an “outside agitator.
“To help the citizen [who presented the petition] move forward, I didn’t want to have any negative issues, so I didn’t go to that meeting,” Hoegger said, adding, “I’m a Door County resident. What happens in Forestville certainly affects me as well.”
Englebert was not available for comment.
One of the problems in any environmental issue that overlaps with farming is that those advocating against harmful practices are painted as anti-farming.
“We have had some of those comments, that we’re against farming,” Hoegger said. “For a number of meetings, we made that clear right from the start, we’re not against farming. We’re just against this particular delivery system, which is a hazard to human health. Lynn Utesch for the last two years was on the Clean Water Action Council Board and he’s a farmer in Kewaunee County. He made that clear, he is a farmer and is not against farming. That was a good connection for us. He’s the only farmer on our board.”
Hoegger said there can also be an economic factor to objecting to the ordinance.
“Sometimes there is some reluctance because there is a cost if you have an attorney write an ordinance. It’s about $750, although that’s coming down,” he said. “For some towns, that’s significant, especially if they perceive that it doesn’t apply to us. We have to show them and provide evidence of things happening in towns not dissimilar to their own.”
He mentions Wood County, where pivot spraying of manure is already an established practice on some farms.
“Our point is to get the ordinance passed before it becomes a common practice, then you don’t have the idea that you are impinging on a farmer doing what is accepted practice,” Hoegger said. “Most small- to medium-sized farms don’t need to do this. It’s only the 15 or so CAFOs in Kewaunee County and the one in Door County that may want to do this because they are constantly looking for ways and places to take this manure that’s being created on their concentrated animal feeding operations.
Ultimately, Hoegger said, the Wisconsin Towns Association has to get on board with the manure-spraying ban.
“Their leadership needs to take this up,” he said. “They have been sitting back on their hands. They’re not promoting this to the towns. In fact they have been saying, well, maybe there will be something from the state, rather than providing a model ordinance and take it up to the state level, because, ultimately, we’re going to need a good lobbying effort at the state level so there isn’t some law passed that will end up superseding all these laws, just like the livestock siting law, taking away local control.”
Hoegger will be discussing this issue and current threats to surface and ground water in a presentation called “Protecting the Waters of Door County: It Shouldn’t be Political.” The talk takes place at 7 pm on Thursday, March 26, in the Jane Green room of the Sturgeon Bay Public Library. The event is hosted by the Democratic Party of Door County.