Larson Acres decision could define siting law
The case started in 2006 when Larson Acres applied for a conditional-use permit for a heifer facility at its County B farm.
Conditions that the town imposed on the permit in March 2007 pushed the farm to appeal to the state livestock siting board, which ordered the permit be reissued with fewer conditions. The farm said the town was trying to micromanage the farm, while the town said it was trying to protect groundwater.
A Rock County judge sided with the town, while an appeals court sided with the livestock board and farm. The Magnolia Town Board and a group of the farm's neighbors filed petitions for review to the Supreme Court.
MAGNOLIA TOWNSHIP The state Supreme Court's hearing Wednesday about a permit for Larson Acres dairy farm will be its first case heard under the state's 5-year-old livestock facility siting law.
The high court's decision is expected to establish a precedent as to how the state's livestock facility permitting process interacts with local zoning authority.
"The decision of the Supreme Court is going to create the law within the state and will be the definitive interpretation of the law," said Dale Peterson, an attorney representing an agricultural coalition that has filed amicus briefs in the case. "It's going to be controlling on all lower courts across the state and controlling on the livestock siting board."
The court will hear oral arguments in the case at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in its court hearing room at the state Capitol. A written decision will likely be issued months later.
About a dozen statewide agricultural and local government organizations have filed as interested parties.
"I think that just shows this has a very high public interest," Magnolia attorney Glenn Reynolds said.
The case defines the roles of town and county government with respect to "large factory farms," he said.
Richard Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, said he isn't surprised to see a conflict under the new law wind up in court, and he knows groups have aligned to fight it.
His organization, along with the Wisconsin Counties Association, has filed amicus briefs in the case supporting the town.
The case isn't challenging livestock siting law as being unconstitutional, he said.
"The law is not being questioned," he said. "To the extent that the town has a right to impose water quality standards already in state law is the issue. We feel that should be done."
The livestock siting law is working, he said, and it has reduced some of the conflict of previous years when some people arbitrarily tried to stop livestock expansions in townships.
With siting standards in place, he said, new and expanded facilities are open "with very good operation,"
Since the livestock siting law went into effect in 2006, 70 local permits have been issued, said Jane Larson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture. Larson is not related to the Larson Acres family.
While no permits have been denied, more than 15 applicants had to modify their plans to meet state requirements, she said.
The livestock siting board has received three appeals along with two from Larson Acres, and no appeals are pending, she said.
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and Wisconsin Pork Association have joined to file briefs supporting the court of appeals decision siding with the livestock board and farm, said their attorneys, Peterson and Krista Pleviak.
When any investor—including a dairy farmer—plans to expand, the most important factor is certainty—knowing the rules and then complying with them, Peterson said.
"It's been our position … the decision by the court of appeals is good for agriculture, good for expansion, good for the economy and the state of Wisconsin," he said.