Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thank You Vernon Broadcaster!

Here is an article by Matt Johnson that is in the Vernon Broadcaster newspaper.

Misinformation about EIS is no help to the county board

When hearing the Vernon County Board discuss a resolution allowing county departments to request an Environmental Impact Statement, Tuesday, April 21, the more the board talked the more confused the issue became.

The board was presented with a resolution that would have allowed the board of health or the land and water conservation committee to make a request to the Department of Natural Resources for an environmental impact statement (EIS) should the county receive an application for a permit by an entity to operate a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the county.

The board eventually tabled this resolution, which was better than simply voting it down. The discussion that took place as soon as the resolution was presented bordered on surreal.

When the resolution was presented, supervisor Francis Hynek said he spoke to an official in Madison who said the resolution would cost every agricultural producer looking to add 350 cows or cattle to spend $300,000 on an EIS.

This isn’t close to being true.

All the resolution would have done is allow the board of health or land and water conservation committee to have the authority to make a request that an EIS be done. That is only if a WPDES permit is applied for. An applicant (almost always) has more than 1,000 animal units, that’s more than 720 cows. Also, an EIS, if determined necessary, is the responsibility of the DNR, according to Jim Pardee, Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act coordinator. To date, the DNR has required only one CAFO to do an EIS, Pardee said. That was the Rosendale Dairy in Fond du Lac County.

Hynek’s comments were followed by comments by supervisors Sherman Erlandson and Ray Moser. They said that Vernon County has no environmental protections and already has a problem with well contamination. They begged the question, why should the county do anything when faced with a request by a CAFO?

An EIS request would be in the interest of protecting the health and safety of county residents. The board of health or LWCC could ask the DNR to have an EIS done. Does that mean it will happen -- no -- but it will in the very least be an effort.

State statistics show that as of August 2007, there were 165 WPDES permits in the state allowing CAFOs. Of these, approximately 110 were for dairies. Two dairy CAFOs already operate in Vernon County.

In 1995, there were less than 20 dairy CAFOs in the entire state. In the 15 years there’s been more than a 500 percent increase in the number of dairy CAFOs in the state. An October 2008, story by the Capitol Times of Madison said as many as 40 permit applications to either start CAFOs or expand existing CAFOs were pending.

Petry Trust is currently looking at sites to operate a CAFO or CAFOs in Vernon County. They may be looking at just one facility, or more than one, considering the fact they’ve investigated multiple sites.

The CAFO issue is not one of rural versus city and it’s not an issue of conventional versus organic. It is a separate issue entirely. Seeking an EIS for a CAFO looking to build a facility for 3,200 cows in a county that’s known to have karst geology just makes sense. It’s not punitive, anti-ag or against the family farm. In fact, it looks to protect the health and safety of those living on family farms near where a CAFO operates. That would make it a pro-family farm initiative.

Also, as has been said at the committee level, perhaps an EIS is not needed for every CAFO. The concern is with a 3,200-cow operation is that it is more than two times larger than anything that currently exists in our county. Don’t forget, this is a county that has experienced back-to-back years with 500-year floods. It’s also a county that can’t stop repetitive manure runoff in the Jersey Valley Lake area.

No matter what the county board decides regarding its tabled resolution, one can only hope that the next time the board discusses it the conversation isn’t immediately usurped by false claims and statements of apathy.

The CAFO issue is delicate because the forces driving big agriculture are more than happy when they divide communities such as our own. It’s as simple as divide and conquer. They know that if they simply make this rural versus city issue, they’ve won — regardless of the health and safety of anyone.

The recent vote in the town of Franklin to seek an EIS if a CAFO applies for a permit to operate there should show the county board the way.

If Petry Trust, or any other CAFO developer, wants to put a 3,200-head operation in Vernon County, why not at least “request” an EIS? That tells the citizenry, “Hey, we’re doing the best we can to ensure your health and safety.”

If the DNR requires an EIS and the applicant passes, let them operate under their permit. Considering our geography, geology and existing water quality issues, to suggest, fueled by false statements and apathy, that the county should not request an EIS is pure folly.
—Matt Johnson

E-mail Matt Johnson at matt.johnson @lee.net.

Thank you Matt!


ChristyACB said...

That ought to make some faces red and get some folks thinking a little more clearly!

Barb and Steve said...

Christy. I hope so :-)