Opinions divided at Rock Prairie Dairy hearing
Others said that’s not good enough.
About 100 people Monday afternoon attended a public hearing hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The hearing is a required part of the department’s review of an application to operate a 5,200-cow dairy at Highway 14 and Scharine Road in Bradford Township.
The facility already is under construction, and owner Todd Tuls wants to be milking cows by year’s end.
Julie Waite and her family raise cattle near the Rock Prairie Dairy site. She wondered how Tuls would know if manure-storage lagoons on the property were leaking and how he would repair them.
Residential wells in Rock County already test high for nitrates, she said.
“We need less (fertilizers and contaminants), not more,” Waite said.
Andrew Craig is a nutrient management specialist with the DNR. He said the manure from Tuls’ cows would replace much of the commercial fertilizer on the fields in Tuls’ nutrient management plan.
Crop producers would have to supplement with commercial fertilizer, he said.
Craig said the public would be able to request the facility’s waste application records.
“They have to keep records, and the public can request copies of those records at any time,” Craig said. “Many of the other farms that currently operate in this county do not have nutrient management plans or are not held to this standard.”
Ralph Wetmore lives on Scharine Road across from the Rock Prairie Dairy site. He said people shouldn’t be concerned that surface water will flow from the site.
Scharine Road seems to be a dividing line, Wetmore said. On the west side, water flows toward the unincorporated community of Emerald Grove, he said. But on the east side, where the dairy is under construction, the water ponds, he said.
The construction has dropped that level to hold even more water, Wetmore said.
“I don’t have concerns about water running off there onto other property,” he said.
Kevin Pope lives near the Rock Prairie Dairy site and had four requests for the DNR:
-- Permanently forbid the use of center-pivot irrigators to apply waste to farm fields.
-- Cover manure storage pads.
-- Cover all manure storage lagoons.
-- Promote the implementation of a treatment plant for manure.
When Tuls proposed the project, it included center pivots to spray manure water onto growing crops. He has since pulled those plans off the drawing board but could come back to the DNR to request them in the future.
Many opponents of the project have said the state prevents local governments from having control over the siting and regulation of large livestock facilities.
Local municipalities aren’t the only ones, said Steve Douglas of Avalon.
“Not only the town, but as an individual, you have even less say in the outcome,” he said.
Douglas said that “at the very least” Tuls should have to post a bond to cover a spill or other environmental disaster.
“I know what my well water is today. I know what my home value is today. I know what my quality of life is today,” Douglas said. “As long as they stay the same, when they (Rock Prairie Dairy) go in the dump and my quality of life is affected, I want to have some assurance that someone is there with the checkbook.”
The state’s livestock siting law prohibits local governments from requiring facility owners to post bonds, said Robin Nyffeler, an attorney with the DNR.
Scott Argall, owner of Argall Dairy Systems of Belleville, asked the audience to keep Tuls’ proposed 5,200-cow herd in perspective.
In rural Waunakee in Dane County, more than 5,000 cows live in a space smaller than the facility Tuls is building, Argall said.
Argall said Wisconsin needs milk to meet its cheese production capacity and should feel fortunate someone with Tuls’ character and commitment is stepping up to fill the gap.
Amelia Royko Maurer disagreed with the argument that Wisconsin needs more milk.
“Wisconsin needs water. Unborn children need water,” said Royko Maurer of Evansville. “Wisconsin doesn’t need milk. It wants it. You’re talking about a demand for a product.”