Official: Town of Bradford has little say on OK of dairy

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Saturday, January 15, 2011
— The Bradford Town Board is the face the public will watch vote “yes” or “no” on what could become the largest livestock operation in southern Wisconsin.

But the town didn’t make the rules.

In the next few months, the town will be charged with approving or denying Nebraska dairy farmer Todd Tuls’ application for a conditional-use permit to build a 160-acre dairy in Bradford Township. If it is built, the Rock Prairie Dairy will be home to 5,200 cows and will be the third such operation under Tuls’ management.

Tuls has to apply for town, county and state permits to operate. He plans to break ground in March.

The project has drawn a lot of attention around Rock County, and people have spoken passionately in favor of and against it.

Town board Chairman Ron Duffy wants to make one thing clear: If you oppose or support Rock Prairie Dairy and other forms of large animal agriculture, your opinions are much better shared with state legislators than town officials.

“The emphasis I would like to have, especially for the people that are against this proposal, is that it seems they don’t quite understand that local government doesn’t have a lot of control on this issue,” Duffy said.

At a public hearing in December, 13 people spoke in opposition to the project. Nine are residents of the township.

Others have contacted the Gazette and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources opposing the plan. Opponents cite the risk of manure spills or increased odors as the reasons they don’t support the project.

Others cite social issues such as the use of antibiotics in livestock production or the practice of housing cattle indoors. Still others say they are concerned such a large business could negatively impact smaller local operations.

While those issues are part of a community debate, they do not fall under the list of things the Bradford Town Board can control, Duffy said. While people have a lot of opinions, they don’t seem to understand the town’s very limited role, Duffy said.

“They seem to come to the board saying you’ve got to stop this because of X, Y or Z,” Duffy said. “My perception is that although many people perceive this in a negative fashion, they are not appreciating what little input the town has in this process.”

Mandated to adopt law

The town of Bradford in October 2006 adopted the state of Wisconsin’s livestock siting law as the town’s ordinance. When the state created the law, towns were mandated to adopt it in order to keep some control over permitting large livestock facilities, said Ron Duffy, chairman of the Bradford Town Board.

The state would assume all control in cases where towns did not adopt the ordinance, Duffy said.

Bradford is one of nine Rock County towns that have adopted the law, according to state data. The others are Clinton, Magnolia, Porter, Spring Valley, Union, Harmony, Plymouth and Turtle.

Rock County is unique in that its zoning is handled at the town level rather than the county level, said UW-Extension livestock agent Randy Thompson.

The state requires local governments to use the law “if they choose to require conditional-use or other permits for siting new and expanded livestock operations,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection website.

The law takes the guesswork out of siting livestock facilities and ensures producers are treated equally no matter where they want to build or expand, said Cheryl Daniels, the attorney for the Wisconsin Livestock Siting Board.

“You can’t just say, ‘No,’ because there are lots of houses near the facility,” Daniels said.

The applicant will provide documents that state, “These are the practices we’re going to use to meet the odor standard,” Daniels said. “They may get it (approval) even if it does smell sometimes.”

The law regulates buildings, waste storage, waste application, feed storage and animal concentration, among other things.

And if a farmer’s application states that all the state’s regulations will be met, the town has no choice but to approve it, Duffy said.

“If they satisfy the mandates of that siting law, this project will go through,” Duffy said.

The town’s responsibility is to make sure the application meets state standards, Duffy said. Because Tuls hired attorneys and engineers to create the application, the town must do the same thing to review it, Duffy said.

Process costs thousands

That leads to one thing that frustrates Duffy about the law: the cost the town bears.

The state allows a municipality to charge an applicant up to $1,000 to apply for permits. The town will spend between $5,000 and $10,000 to review the applications, he said.

Duffy testified about that discrepancy at a recent technical review of the law.

The town’s contact with Rock Prairie Dairy won’t end when the permit is approved. The town board must advocate for town roads and infrastructure and will be the entity that oversees odor regulation from the facility.

Therefore, Duffy wants to make sure the town’s interaction with Tuls remains professional.

“The board does not want to be placed in an adversarial position,” Duffy said. “If indeed this facility is established wherein we need to protect the infrastructure of the town, we want a cooperative relationship in the future.”

Duffy doesn’t expect to make everyone happy, but he does think the town will be able to ensure the Rock Prairie Dairy application meets state requirements.

“I can’t speak for 1,030 people,” Duffy said. “The board is dealing with the situation under the guidance of the town attorney to stay in compliance to the best of our ability with the law as it comes to us from the state.”

To learn more about Wisconsin’s livestock siting law, visit datcp.wi.gov.

If you go

What: Bradford Planning and Zoning Committee meeting

When: 6:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Bradford Town Hall, intersection of Bradford Town Hall Road and Carvers Rock Road.

Details: The commission could talk about farmland preservation and the town’s comprehensive plan. The board could talk about or take action on Rock Prairie Dairy’s conditional-use permit application to build a 5,200-cow dairy on Highway 14 at Scharine Road, although the board does not have to take action at this time.

Last updated: 4:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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