Caring for roads, caring for agriculture: Town considers changes it says will protect both

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, May 24, 2014

TOWN OF LA PRAIRIE—If a 6,300-gallon milk truck weighs 80,000 pounds, and if a cow produces six or seven gallons of milk a day, and if you're milking 4,000 cows a day, how often will you have to repair the stretch of Class B road leading to the farm?

Don't forget about manure hauling, and be sure to show your work.

That's the tricky word problem—and philosophical quandary—facing town of La Prairie officials.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 4, the town will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to its zoning code. The changes would:

-Prohibit spraying of liquid animal waste.

-Regulate the amount of time pipe or hoses used to transport such waste could be in town ditches to two continuous two-week periods.

-Define uses that cause “excessive damage to town roads.” 

-Adopt state standards for concentrated animal feeding operations, more commonly called CAFOs.  

The possible changes come amid discussion that Rock Prairie Dairy owner Todd Tuls and his son T.J. are considering a new dairy in the town.

T.J. Tuls manages an operation that milks 4,600 cows on 160 acres in the town of Bradford.

In February, Todd Tuls confirmed that a site in the town of La Prairie is a possibility, but he also is considering expanding in other counties.

In an e-mail to the Gazette, town board President Allan Arndt wrote, “Mr. Tuls has submitted nothing to the town, and, to my knowledge, nothing to the DNR.”

As of May 12, nothing had been submitted to the DNR, according to Mark Cain, DNR agricultural runoff management specialist.

La Prairie is ferociously protective of its status as an agricultural community. Could these changes to zoning rules be an attempt to keep out a large operation?

“These ordinance updates have something to do with the increasing prevalence of specialized agricultural activities that operate in a fashion that is different than what we are accustomed to,” Arndt wrote in an e-mail.

Traditionally, a farmer raised animals, grew feed for the livestock and spread the manure back on the fields for fertilizer.

“Occasionally, a livestock operation would work with neighboring land owners to assemble a useful land base, but not on the scale that some communities are currently seeing,” Arndt said.

Arndt wrote that CAFOs are not the issue, but then he added: “Whether the crop is sold or fed, the traffic to and from any given field is somewhat consistent. The picture might change significantly if a very large CAFO moved in and occupied no land base beyond that necessary to house livestock.”

All inputs, such as feed, and all outputs, such as milk, would have to be trucked in and out. In addition, any large livestock operation would have to either rent or buy land to spread manure.

If the operation's nearest neighbor didn't have the land or wasn't willing to take the manure, that could be a problem.

“Potentially, multiple semis per day, every day, year round, through the freeze and thaw cycles, on wet days and dry,” Arndt wrote.  “No town roads in any town I'm aware of were built to withstand that. I doubt anyone foresaw the need.”

Road repairs take up about 50 percent of the town's budget. Redoing a mile of road costs about $90,000, Arndt said..

Town leaders have repeatedly said they want to preserve their agricultural base, and recent decisions back that up.

In September, the town turned down a request to allow County J to be used as an alternative route for Interstate 90/39 during construction. The town has jurisdiction over the half mile of Avalon Road that connects County J to the Interstate, and it was unwilling to give it up to Rock County. 

The deal would have meant significant improvements to County J, including widened shoulders and strengthened roadbed. Those changes would have taken up farmland and, in the opinion of town officials, “impacted residents negatively.”

A significant part of the changes adds language about damage to the roads, including:

-When construction for any business that needs a conditional use permit requires heavy vehicle traffic at a “frequency as to cause excessive damage to town roads,” the town has the right to ask for road improvements before—or repairs after—that construction.

A CAFO would require a conditional use permit. However, because of the state's ag citing law, local governments have very little control over where such a facility is located.

-A business that requires a conditional use permit that involves, over the course of 12 months, an average weekly traffic weight of more than 400 tons, excluding season crop activities and farm equipment, are “deemed to cause excessive damage to town roads.” In such cases, the town has the right to designate the route used, require the permit hold to improve the road beforehand or pay a percentage of costs for repairs.

Consider: A large-capacity milk hauler can weigh between 60,000 pounds and 80,000 pounds, and can carry between 6,000 gallons and 6,300 gallons of milk. If a farm is milking 4,000 cows a day, and an average cow produces six gallons and seven gallons per day, that multiplies out to about 26,000 gallons. That's more than four trucks a day with each weighing between 30 and 40 tons.   

Now take into consideration the amount of feed that comes in and the amount of manure that has to be trucked out if the farmer can't find land for spreading.

Arndt said the changes aren't intended to block agricultural activities but to “manage them for the benefit of everyone in the town.”

“We want to do what we can without slamming the door on ag,” he said.

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