Bradford OKs pivot regulation

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August 17, 2011
— The town of Bradford is the last among Rock County towns to regulate the use of center-pivot irrigators to empty manure-storage lagoons.

Meanwhile in Walworth County, a Richmond Township resident wants the state to regulate the practice, and Walworth County officials are waiting for clarification from the state before deciding if or how to regulate pivots across the county.

The Bradford Town Board on Tuesday voted to create an ordinance that would make operators get conditional-use permits to pump waste out of storage on large livestock facilities and spray the waste onto growing crops.

"We are trying to bring some local control back," Chairman Ron Duffy said.

No such pivots are proposed in Rock or Walworth counties, although they were at one time on the application for a 5,200-cow dairy under construction on Highway 14 two miles west of the Rock-Walworth county line.

Dairy owner Todd Tuls of Columbus, Neb., uses center pivots to empty manure-storage lagoons on his two Nebraska farms. He anticipates working with the DNR to put the pivots back in the plans for the Rock Prairie Dairy, which is in Bradford Township.

The Rock County towns of Harmony and Johnstown have approved ordinances regulating the pivots.

In Walworth County, where towns do not have zoning authority, the town of Richmond has asked Walworth County to create a center-pivot regulation ordinance.

In response, Planning Director Michael Cotter has asked the Department of Agriculture to clarify counties' roles in regulating the pivots.

"This is a statewide concern," Cotter said. "It's not just a Rock or Walworth County issue."

A February health department letter states planners should use caution when regulating center pivots to protect public health. An April letter from the DNR and the department of agriculture states the practice has been common in Wisconsin and has not been harmful to public health.

"We've got three different departments sending out mixed signals," Cotter said.

At least one Walworth County resident thinks the state needs to step up and regulate the practice, which DNR officials have said is not common in Wisconsin but is in Western states.

Richmond Township resident Gene Pulera in July wrote a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health Services suggesting the creation of an interdisciplinary advisory team to make regulations for applying raw livestock waste to farm fields.

Until regulations are in place, large livestock operations should not be allowed to apply to use such methods, Pulera's letter states.

Richmond's request and Pulera's letter have been referred to the Walworth County Zoning Agency, which meets Thursday. Cotter said the county will wait for a response to his request for clarification before diving into the matter, so action is not anticipated this week.

Bradford will not issue disaster bonds for dairy

The town of Bradford and its residents are out of the loop as far as Midwest Disaster Area Bonds for Rock Prairie Dairy are concerned.

The town board on Tuesday in two votes withdrew a resolution to issue the bonds and allowed the Wisconsin Public Finance Authority to do so instead.

The board in May had agreed to issue up to $25 million in bonds at the request of dairy owner Todd Tuls of Columbus, Neb. At the time, board members and citizens were concerned the town could be liable for the bonds if Tuls couldn't pay. They were told the town would not be at risk, and Tuls agreed to pay legal fees related to the bonds.

Some residents still opposed the bond issuance. They gathered enough signatures to force a referendum that could have overturned the board's decision. Before the referendum date could be set, Tuls withdrew the request and instead is seeking up to $15.6 million in bonds through the finance authority.

This does not mean Tuls will be getting tax money for construction, said Liz Stephens, spokeswoman for the authority.

Rather, once the bonds are issued, they will be bought on the market. The bank or other investor that buys the bonds will not have to pay federal income tax because the Public Finance Authority is set up as a governmental entity, Stephens said.

That will allow the lender to give Tuls a break on the interest rate on his loan.

The project qualifies because Rock County was declared a disaster area after substantial flooding in 2008.

The law does not allow for a referendum when the Public Finance Authority issues bonds, Steve Sabatke has said. Sabatke is a bond specialist with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., formerly the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

The law does require the local municipality to hold a public hearing and to vote on the matter, Stephens said. That way, the public can be aware when municipal bonds are issued, she said.

If a local municipality voted "no," the finance authority could not issue the bonds, she said.

During Tuesday's hearing, a small number of residents said the board should prevent the finance authority from issuing the bonds. No one in the audience spoke in favor of issuance.

Bradford resident Tim Bliss said residents spoke when they collected enough signatures to hold a referendum.

"There is a vast majority out there that is against this project," Bliss said.

Board Chairman Ron Duffy said the bonds are a tool of capitalism.

Stopping the bond issuance would not stop the Rock Prairie Dairy, he said.

"Regardless of what we do, this project is going to go through," Duffy said. "That being the case, I don't see a real reason outside of vindictiveness for the town to deny this."

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