Johnstown bans center-pivot manure sprayers

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Monday, January 24, 2011
— The Johnstown Town Board has passed an ordinance banning center-pivot manure application in the township.

The ordinance is the town's attempt to protect residents from a proposed 5,200-cow dairy farm in nearby Bradford Township, Johnstown Clerk Mary Mawhinney said.

Meanwhile, the Rock County Health Department will use a $10,000 grant to study the potential health impacts such a facility could have, said Tim Banwell, the county's environmental health director.

Nebraska dairy farmer Todd Tuls has applied for local, county and state permits to build a 160-acre facility on Highway 14 at Scharine Road in Bradford Township. The Rock Prairie Dairy would be the largest dairy in Rock or Walworth counties. It would be the fourth largest in the state.

Tuls operates two farms that house 10,000 cows in eastern Nebraska.

The Johnstown Town Board unanimously approved the ordinance change Monday, Jan. 17, Mawhinney said. Town board Chairman Dennis Logterman was absent but supports the ordinance, she said.

The ordinance bans the use of center-pivot irrigation systems to apply wastewater onto fields. Tuls has proposed using such systems to pump wastewater out of his manure-storage lagoons and onto growing crops.

Tuls' proposal includes center-pivot application on 479 acres in Johnstown Township as well as 1,149 acres in Bradford and Darien townships.

Tuls has contracted a total of 5,270 acres for waste application. In addition to the center-pivot system, he proposes to inject liquid waste into the soil on some fields and spread solid waste on others.

Center-pivot application is not common in Wisconsin, although it is widely used in Western states. Wastewater is pumped off the top of manure storage lagoons after most—but not all—of the manure solids have settled to the bottom. The manure water is sprayed onto growing crops.

This method of manure application has "a large potential for significant odor," according to a University of Nebraska pamphlet cited in Johnstown's ordinance.

However, Tuls said it allows him to apply small amounts of waste on a regular basis rather than trying to empty his lagoons twice a year.

The town did not need to hold a public hearing because no new ordinance was created. Instead, the town wrote the ban on center-pivot manure application into its existing nuisance ordinance.

The change has gotten many positive response from residents, Mawhinney said.

"The amount of calls we've gotten from residents saying ‘thank you' has amazed me," she said.

The town of Johnstown isn't the only newcomer into the Rock Prairie Dairy debate.

The county health department will add another layer of governmental oversight to the project and will focus on possible impacts to the public's health, Banwell said.

The county department in November landed a $10,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to study the proposed Rock Prairie Dairy. The goal is not to prevent development but to try to make it compatible with the community, Banwell said.

"We might not eliminate all the problems, but we might make it more compatible," Banwell said.

Health department staff will study the facility's proposed groundwater protection plans and surface water runoff prevention as well as research the possible economic impacts of the proposed farm, Banwell said. Staff members already have read Tuls' application documents and will talk to Magnolia Township residents about problems they might have had with Larson Acres, the largest dairy farm in Rock County to date.

The health department could make recommendations on the Rock Prairie Dairy facility while construction is under way, Banwell said.

He expects health department staff members to make a report in early April.

Tuls expects to break ground in March. He does not need to have all his permits approved before breaking ground.


The town of Johnstown and the Rock County Health Department aren't the only groups joining the debate about the proposed Rock Prairie Dairy.

A group of citizens is organizing in opposition to the farm. The group's goal is "to maintain a healthy living environment and quality of life for people in Rock County and the area the farm is going to be in," said spokesman Tom Boswell of Evansville.

The group is concerned about the proposed dairy's potential impact on drinking water quality, air quality, local property values and the fertile soil of the Rock Prairie, Boswell said.

The group has had a few meetings so far, and more will be scheduled, Boswell said.

To learn more, call Boswell at (608) 882-0758 or e-mail him at tomboswell2002@yahoo.com. Or call Dwight Brass at 608-346-3382 or e-mail him at Janicen2@FastMail.fm.

Last updated: 4:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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