Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kewaunee County Update, May 27, 2014

Kewaunee County Update, by Ron Heuer, Kewaunee County Chairman

Kewaunee Co. Groundwater

As Abraham Lincoln so appropriately said, “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”  All my life, I have understood this, but I think there is one element of this axiom that is missing, that being, “some people are just never satisfied,” no matter what.  But, we keep on trying because that is our responsibility.

On Friday, May 23rd, our County Conservationist, Andy Wallander, Board Member, Ron Paider and I went to Madison to meet with both the Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Cathy Stepp and Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), Ben Brancel along with an impressive 14 members of their staff members.  The purpose of the meeting was to request assistance in dealing with our Kewaunee County groundwater issues.

This meeting came to fruition as a result of my call to Governor Walker’s office who subsequently had a DNR staff member call me directly and set up the meeting.  We want to thank the Governor, his staff, Secretary Stepp and Secretary Brancel, both for taking the time for the personal meeting with us. And we thank them for including and engaging their staff members to the issues we face in Kewaunee County with our groundwater.

The mission of our meeting was to update the DNR and DATCP as to the challenges we have in Kewaunee County with our Karst topography and how our groundwater is being adversely impacted with our current state mandated manure handling rules and regulations.  We presented a short PowerPoint presentation on Kewaunee County that included; a county overview focusing on our businesses, our tourism, our physical size, our county Land and Water staffing, population, acreage, number of farms, number of CAFOs, number of cattle, etc. 

Throughout the presentation, we impressed upon them the idea that, “the one size fits all in the State” with regard to regulating the handling of liquid manure does not work for a unique county like Kewaunee.  Why you ask?  Because it seems Kewaunee County has a challenging environment, that being about 1/3 of the county has soil to bedrock being 20 feet or less and approximately 1/10th of our land having 5 feet or less to bedrock.  And we have a large number of cattle in the county.

Secretary Brancel took issue with my description of Kewaunee County being “unique” and he ticked off the names of several other counties that have similar topography and cattle counts.  However, I maintained that Kewaunee Co. is unique, in that unlike those counties he mentioned, not one of them has an entire side faced with Lake Michigan frontage and rivers that flow from the county to the lake where, one sees the impact, first hand.  In those counties cited by Secretary Brancel there may be tributaries, but they flow through the county and merge with another river taking most pollutants past those counties. 

The tone of the meeting was very cordial and both Secretaries and their staff members were engaged throughout.  We made a number of requests of the DNR and DATCP, with our primary request being support of both agencies in the implementation of an approved manure handling ordinance that is unique to Kewaunee County.  They did get that message and both the DNR and DATCP will work with our County Conservationist and the Land and Water committee over the next 45 days to finalize a revised, unique manure handling ordinance. Secretary Stepp made it very clear to her staff that she wanted them to be focused in working with our staff to complete this ordinance in a timely manner.

What does the creation of this unique ordinance mean to the county?  As you may know, the DNR and DATCP at State level control water management and set the rules that govern water management.  A county can pass its own ordinance but would have no way of enforcing that ordinance.  By having both DNR and DATCP co-op in the crafting and implementation of this ordinance, Kewaunee County will have the authority to enforce it.  Although this animal waste water ordinance is yet to be finalized, the first drafts of the ordinance showed the intent of the ordinance would deal with the application of any manure to certain Karst topography soils through the winter months of the year.

Another take-away from the meeting was an offer of help for us to properly and completely communicate with the farmers in our community with regard to the new ordinance.  Also, the fact we had a total of 16 of the top management people of the DNR and DATCP sitting in that meeting room for two and one-half hours listening to our presentation and dialogue will certainly be a help going forward.  Those staff people heard both Secretaries express interest in assisting Kewanee County to better their environment.  This meeting was only one step in changing the direction of our county.  Another step will be to pass a joint Health / Land & Water Committees Resolution concerning our ground water which will both inform and impress our legislators to step forward and assist us in our endeavors.

Other Issues

The new board was sworn in on April 14th and over the following month, the new committees held their first meetings.  I attended all but one of those meetings and I am very encouraged these new committees are up to the task of managing our county business.  Some of the meetings were a bit long, but that is the typically the case when you are installing new committee members and bringing them up to speed to the issues they will be dealing with. 

What I really enjoyed seeing are the new board members asking probative, pertinent questions, as to why things are being done the way they are.  We have big challenges in the county, and I am confident this board will make the right decisions.

Mr. Dorner, the county administrator, has announced his retirement, and he will do so at the end of 2014.  I appreciate him giving us ample time to find a qualified suitable replacement.  Mr. Dorner will help us with our budget process for 2015 which will be quite challenging.  In 2015 we start to feel the effects of the loss of revenue from the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant.  We will have to find a way to manage through the loss of some $3M in revenue in the next 5 years.  That whole process will become more challenging as Dominion, the owner of the plant, faces new assessment of the facility and that facility then goes on the tax roll.  Those taxes may mitigate some of our exposure, but that remains to be seen.

County employee health insurance is a big cost to the county as we pay about $2.4M in premiums for the 150 or so employees we insure.  We are looking at options to change the way we are handling insurance and we will have a group of employees involved in helping us to define a program that is equitable to all.
Our Highway Department is under new management with a new Commissioner, Todd Every.  He is charged with redefining the mission of that department.  This is not an easy process as first one needs to establish a number of possible directions for the department to take, and then analyze each of those scenarios, to determine which scenario is best for the county.

Our Human Services area continues to try to manage its way forward while the State and Federal Governments continue to mandate services without providing us the funds to pay for them.  I would like to see a county-wide tourism effort that pulls together resources to focus on the promotion of tourism. 
By the way, last week I was notified by a land owner in West Kewaunee Township, that Element Power will be pursuing the construction of 84 wind turbines in 2015.  This land owner, along with about 40 others have had their land in a contract with Element Power for the past five years.  Element Power have an automatic renewal clause in their contract allowing them to keep this land available for their wind development.  This wind farm will start at Highway 29 and extend south to Hillcrest Road north of Two Rivers.  In Kewaunee County, it will be bounded on the east by Highway 42 and the west by Townhall Road.  

Once again, the State has enacted PSC128 which takes away any local siting authority.  So here we go again!!

These are but a few of the issues at hand, we have a lot of work that needs to be done!  

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