Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Let's Work Together

LET’S WORK TOGETHER 
By Ron Heuer, District 12 Supervisor
On Wednesday evening Feb 12, I, along with a contingent of concerned Kewaunee County residents, spent several hours either providing testimony or observing testimony with regard to the DNR permitting the expansion of the Kinnard operation.  This expansion included a 70M gallon manure storage facility at the Kinnard Farm in Lincoln Township.  Five Kewaunee County residents and Midwest Environment Advocates (a Madison based environmental law firm) are contesting the DNR approval of this expansion without assuring the farm’s manure management plan would meet state water quality standards.  As an observer, I can honestly say I learned a lot about the entire issue.
I have empathy for those people who testified as to their personal experiences with degradation of their water source and how that, in some cases, has directly impacted their quality of life.  I equally have empathy for the Kinnard farming operation who have worked long and hard to build their farm and have followed the procedures the DNR has set and now have to spend their hard earned money to defend themselves and their business.
In addition to the sworn testimony of the petitioners, about 18 Kewaunee residents provided sworn testimony in support of those petitioners.  Their testimony was heartfelt and as I listened to all the testimony I experienced a range of emotions to include empathy, concern, outrage, sadness, dismay and, yes, hope.  
Empathy.  How can you not empathize with someone who, as a result of their water source being polluted with coliform, e-coli and nitrates can no longer brush their teeth with water from their own well?  At the same time, how can you not have empathy for the Kinnards as they have suffered through personal attacks and character assassination because they operate a CAFO.  This is where I disconnect with the logic of some of the testimony, here are a couple of examples why. 
A dairy farm is determined to be a CAFO when they have 700 head of milking and dry cows.  And as a CAFO, operates under the rules set by the State DNR and EPA.  They must follow the guidelines set by the DNR when it comes to applying manure to fields and cannot, for example, apply any manure to a field from January 1 through the end of March.  Meantime, you have many farms in this county of various size that are not CAFOs and they haul manure daily throughout the winter and spread manure on the snow that is sitting on frozen ground.  It is logical that when this snow melts (and it will melt before the ground is unfrozen), it will run off into the creeks and rivers and make its way to the lake and other areas it shouldn’t be.  I only cite this one example, because a cow is a cow and all those cows produce manure and manure is manure.
Some would have you believe that organic farming is the “right type” of farming for Kewaunee County.  However, what they don’t mention is there are organic designated farmers in Kewaunee County that apply manure as a fertilizer to their fields from the same large CAFOs.  Once again, manure is manure.
Even though the Kinnards farm is in Lincoln Township, it is not just Kinnard Farm manure on the Township fields.  Manure travels, various farmers, big and small, haul their manure from township to township wherever they own or lease land.  Manure is manure.
We all understand Wisconsin relies heavily on agriculture, and Kewaunee County is more dependent upon agriculture than many counties.  Mr. Luft, a former Paper and Plastics Industry executive provided testimony that was very logical.  He knows first-hand how stringent the EPA and DNR can be when they have a mind to be.  He cited a well-documented incident in Kewaunee County where the EPA levied a fine against an ag-business and virtually, during the same time period, the DNR issued an expansion permit for the same operation.  To me, this is part of the problem of government being so big, no one knows what is going on and then the system fails us.  Us, includes all the residents of Kewaunee County including owners and operators of all farm sizes.
To me, there is thinking in our country today that condemns hard work and success.  We should all be grateful for folks like El-Na Farms, Eberts, Pagels, Dairy Dreams, Kinnards and many other farmers in our area who are trying to make a living and pursuing the American Dream while putting food on America’s table.
Mr. John Rybski, a very articulate Ahnapee Township man who provided personal testimony summed it up better than anyone else when he said, “We need to change this together”.                       

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Character assassinations and personal attacks won’t do anything but further divide the residents of our County.  Although the DNR has the final say today, that should not deter us from having heartfelt dialogue with each other to see what things CAFOs, large farmers, small farmers and the balance of the residents can do to make our County a better, safer place to live.