Elected officials in the Town of Lincoln – one of the areas in Kewaunee County hit hardest by contaminated wells – are no longer relying on outside forces to protect their fragile groundwater. At its October 17 meeting, the Lincoln Town Board passed a one-year moratorium on construction or expansion of existing livestock facilities in the town.
On Nov. 2, the town Plan Commission will hold a public hearing on the interim control ordinance but commission chair Mick Sagrillo isn’t expecting much comment since everyone has had their whack at it already at town board meetings.
“This grew out of the WPDES hearing for El-Na Farms, one of the three CAFOs in our community,” Sagrillo said, referring to the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to industrial-size farms.
“When the WPDES permit came out [in August] and they were looking for not only a continuation but essentially doubling the size of the herd, I think people were pretty much devastated,” Sagrillo said. “It was like, ‘You must be joking. We’ve got groundwater problems now. Where are you going to put twice the manure by doubling the herd?’ I testified at the WPDES hearing. I had no plans of doing it. It was off the cuff. I told the DNR they are fine operators and responsible individuals. I’ve known the family as long as I’ve been here. They’re well respected, but doubling the size of the herd, there was a collective dropping of the jaw in the community.”
An interesting aspect to this is that Lonnie Fenendael of El-Na Farms is a member of the Lincoln Plan Commission.
“He’s an active member,” Sagrillo said. “I would say he brings value to the plan commission relative to what his perspective is. We don’t always see eye to eye, but from my perspective, he brings value to the table.”
Sagrillo said the rationale for instituting the ordinance lies in the lack of leadership on these issues coming from other quarters.
“We have no idea what DATCP [Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection] is doing. We don’t know what’s going on with the DNR and the 151 rule. The Kinnard [Farms expansion] issue is now in the courts. That still is not resolved,” he said. “We just have no idea. Everything at the state level is up in the air. When we do a conditional use permit or a building permit, the town has a contract with that farming entity. However that contract is superseded by the town’s contract with the state of Wisconsin. At the moment, we have no idea what the contract with the state of Wisconsin reads. We have no idea what the rules going forward are. Hopefully, within a year, we’ll have some idea of what’s going on in the state of Wisconsin. Right now it’s all up in the air, so the town board directed me as chair of the town plan commission to draft an ordinance, and I worked with our counsel (Randy Nesbitt of the Pinkert Law Firm), to come up with the moratorium.”
Sagrillo said the moratorium did accommodate concern of the CAFO operators.
“There were some concerns by two of the CAFO operators, Don Niles from Dairy Dreams and Lonnie Fenendael from El-Na Farms,” he said. “The town board actually modified the original resolution to accommodate the CAFOs. They said, what happens if we come up with some kind of building that is an improvement for the facility or for waste reduction? So what they directed me to add was the town may consider development agreements recommended by the plan commission with livestock facilities of 500 animal units or more for onsite facility improvements and/or onsite wastewater reduction improvements that benefit the township as well as the facility.”
Sagrillo had high praise for the progressive nature of the town’s three-member board of chair Cory Cochart and supervisors Jesse Jerabek and Nick Cochart.
“This is the third town board I’ve served as chair of the Plan Commission,” he said. “This is not a knee-jerk anti-CAFO town board. You hear people talking about precautionary principle. I think they are abiding by the precautionary principle. We need to take care of citizens, everybody in the township, not just three entities.”
“The Lincoln Town Board addresses the challenges we face rather than avoiding them or simply pushing them off for another day,” said town chair Cory Cochart. “It’s about service, knowing and understanding not everyone will like our decisions but that our efforts are dedicated to improving and protecting the health and wellbeing of our community.”
Sagrillo also points to the town board’s decision to go ahead with a $43,000 groundwater mapping project that is set to take place under the direction of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.
“They authorized the plan commission to work with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey to develop a groundwater mapping project for the entire township,” Sagrillo said. “After the fact, Kewaunee County Land Information Office kicked in $20,000. They actually tried to get all the townships involved with this, but nobody else was willing to take the plunge. The whole idea behind this is to try and figure out where the groundwater is flowing, where the recharge area is, where the sensitive areas are that need to be protected. We will have a very, very powerful tool that we can use with our comprehensive planning.”
The Lincoln Plan Commission’s hearing on the interim ordinance is at 7 pm on Nov. 2. On that same day, at 9 am, the Kewaunee County Land and Water Committee will revisit the manure irrigation ordinance that was returned to committee at the Oct. 17 Kewaunee County board meeting. That committee is chaired by John Pagel, owner of Pagel’s Ponderosa, the state’s largest dairy farm.
Pagel, Niles of Dairy Dreams and the Dairy Business Association sued the Town of Lincoln in 2013 for adopting a resolution that banned center pivot animal and agricultural wastewater distribution systems.
“The township incurred more than $14,000 in legal fees to make sure they were on sound legal footing, which, it turns out, we were,” Sagrillo said of the lawsuit. “So they stood their ground. They were not intimidated by the Dairy Business Association threatening to sue to the tune of $100,000. People were pretty well fed up with expansions and what they saw as community leaders not willing to take a stand for whatever reason. These folks were very adamant. Enough is enough.”