Thursday, December 31, 2015

Update on State of the County


As 2015 comes to an end, and the current board heads into its final months, I feel it is important to review the accomplishments of this Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors.  Keep in mind this board's term ends with the March 2016 meeting, and a new board will be sworn in at the April 2016 meeting following the spring election.

You are fortunate to have an active, engaged board, a board comprised of elected community members that really care about the welfare of the county and its citizens.  It is encouraging to attend committee meetings where these board members are prepared and engaged in the process, asking questions, and contributing overall to the process.

What are the greatest challenges for our county?
  • Ground and Surface water contamination
  • Budget shortfall caused by the closure of the Dominion Nuclear Plant
  • Restructuring of Highway Department
  • Decisions on the County Landfill
  • Restructuring of the Human services area
Following is more detail on each of those challenges:

Ground and Surface Water
A lot has been written about this over the past couple of years, but this issue continues to be an important issue in our county.  This board has been very responsive to this issue and has made significant progress to include:  
  • Passing a county ordinance changing winter spreading rules for all farmers.
  • We've added additional staff to Land and Water Conservation Department to allow them to better monitor and review Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) and to ensure adherence to NMPs and compliance with our ordinances.
  • The DNR is working with our county in an unprecedented fashion.  They have set up five committees to work directly with our County residents and board members with a goal of determining guidelines as to how to handle the overall ground and surface water issue in the county.  It is envisioned the guidelines developed here can and would be applied elsewhere in the state. 
  • The DNR allocated $80,000 for additional well testing in Kewaunee County.  This will allow for 800 wells to be tested across the county (320 wells tested this fall with another 500 being tested in the spring of 2016).  This randomized testing should provide us with results that are more conclusive than we have ever had, and will also accurately pinpoint the sources of contamination.
  • The County secured a $50,000 PSC grant which provides the County the funds to explore the feasibility of farmer cooperative on-farm hub and satellite manure treatment program.  We have just begun this process and I would like to point out, the County will not be building any digesters in the county.  The plan would call for local farmers to build and operate these digesters.  
  • We formed a Groundwater Task Force which has a goal of continuing to inform the county residents as to what is happening in regard to the groundwater and surface water in Kewaunee County.  
  • In addition to the work we have been doing with the DNR, we are also working in and unprecedented manner with NRCS and DATCP in efforts of improving our groundwater and surface water.
Dominion Nuclear Plant
Entering our second year with reduced income from the closure of the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant presented challenges with our budget for 2015, but thanks to Dominion contribution of $143,000, we were able to balance our 2015 shortfall.  Also, we were able to have utility taxes reinstated for the following 3 years that overall will contribute $855,000 to the County. 

Highway Department
For the first time in 12 years, the Highway Department has ended its 2014 year in the black, and it appears the same will hold true for 2015.  The restructuring that was completed over the past 18 months contributed to that positive result, but also the day to day management of the department has taken on the challenge and all the employees in that department are to be commended for those results.

County Landfill
Very difficult decisions have been taken regarding the landfill.  As you may recall, the Highway and Landfill Committee has been working on this problem for the past two years to find the right path for the county to take regarding landfill.  The reality of competition in all directions made our landfill a losing proposition.  The decision to close the landfill was taken.  At the current rate of fill, it will probably take close to two years to fill before we actually officially close the site.  Even then, we will more than likely experience a substantial loss when we close the landfill.

Restructuring of Human Services
With the advent of regionalized family services, our Human Services department underwent a restructuring that involved laying off a number of employees and reassigning responsibilities throughout the remaining employees.  This was a painful process as it required all department employees to be re-evaluated for the remaining positions we had left in the county.  The overall staff was reduced by seven employees. 

Legislative & State Agencies Interface
This board has engage our legislative representatives both with Assemblyman Kitchens and with Senator Lasee and his staff.  It was largely because of the interaction and relationships with these legislators and other government officials in Madison we were able to accomplish much of what we have done.  Many of the board members participated in the  Legislative Days in Madison where we carried the message to the legislators about our groundwater issues, the utility tax extension and Kewaunee Harbor restoration.

Fiscal Responsibility:
·      This board has been very responsible in managing the financial affairs for the County.  In spite of the revenue shortfalls caused by the closure of the Dominion Kewaunee Nuclear Plant, we were able to manage our budget without increasing the County taxes.  Also, we have continued to provide all the essential services without interruption.  Not only did we operate without increasing taxes, we found an additional $1,185,000 money from State and private resources that were invested in our county to include:
·               $855,000 extension of utility tax over next three years
·               Dominion financial assistance $143,000
·               DNR grant - $80,000 2015/2016 Well Testing
·               DATCP $48,000k approval of moving funds from SEG funding to Bond Dollars
·               PSC, $50,000 funding for Manure Treatment Feasibility Study

Staffing Changes and Adjustments
·         Over the past two years our staffing in the county has been reduced by 34 employees, most of these were retirements in Highway Department along with the reduction of staff in the Human Services area.  This was all done without impacting any of the services the county has been providing.  We hired a new Administrator, Scott Feldt.
      We added a new position, Director of Finance, and hired Paul Kunesh who is now generating monthly financial reports for each operating unit in the County.  For the first time, we now are able to not only track where we are financially, but to manage those areas where we may be experiencing any financial abnormalities.

·     In 2016, we will be adding a new County Tourism / Press Information Officer.  We will begin the process of a countywide initiative for tourism promotion while generating positive messaging to improve and repair our County's image.

·        We modified the overall insurance package for our County employees to bring them more in line with the general public.  For the protected employees, we just finished a union negotiation that will bring them in line with the balance of the County employees both for insurance and retirement contribution.

What we should be working on for 2016 and beyond:
  •       Develop 5 Year Financial Plan, we’ve made it through 2016 but looking forward, our  revenues will continue to decrease and expenses will continue to increase.
  •       Continue full effort to improve ground and surface water quality
  •       Maintain adequate County services to the public
  •       Continue to look for further efficiencies in the organization and other cooperative      initiatives. 
  •       With regard to the Kewaunee Harbor Project, do whatever we can at the county level to ensure we land a developer for that site.
  •       Continue to provide business loans using State of Wisconsin funds through our revolving loan fund.
  •       Highlight documented improvements to water quality in an effort to repair our image.
  •       Plan for revenue shortfalls in 2017 and beyond
  •       Assist in the success of 2017 Farm Technology Days.
  •       Find a solution to library charges from other counties.
  •       Engage with State Legislators for continued assistance at State level.
  •       Continue to ensure our government more accountable.
  •       Explore joint ventures and shared services with other municipalities both inside the county and outside the county (example, County Sheriff Dept managing Algoma PD)

Real Estate Tax Bills
 I am sure you noticed a sizeable reduction in your real estate taxes 2016.  I wish we could take credit for that, but unfortunately that is directly associated with the $452,000,000 valuation placed on the Dominion Kewaunee Nuclear Plant.  So, Dominion is, currently paying very high taxes.  I say currently as Dominion is challenging this valuation in court.  Currently the initial court date is scheduled for November 2016.  Even if it were settled at the Circuit Court level, because of the late scheduling of this challenge, you will more than likely realize the same kind of reduction of taxes in 2016.  

Now, what if Dominion prevails and the Court decides the valuation was not correct?  Carlton Township would be required to refund money to Dominion and that would trigger events that would require the County to collect those monies from the taxpayers who received a reduction of real estate taxes. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Kewaunee County "out of County" Library Costs

Perhaps you recall finding a short message in your tax bill this year that advised you of the fact that Kewaunee County has spent $190,000 over the past 3 years for library charges incurred by our county residents in out of county libraries.  There is a WI Statute 43.12 that deals with Libraries in general.  Within 43.12 are provisions allowing adjacent county libraries to invoice other counties for services they provide to adjoining counties residents providing those counties do not have a consolidated library system.

Kewaunee County does not have a consolidated library system as the libraries in Algoma and Kewaunee are operated by the cities with certain contributions from the county. So, therefore, we receive invoices annually from both Manitowoc and Brown County library systems for those services.  And, yes, we have paid nearly $190,000 over the past years for those services.  The amount of invoicing from Manitowoc is miniscule in comparison to that of Brown County and that makes sense.  We have a lot of people from Kewaunee County working and shopping in Green Bay and therefore it is convenient to use their library services.

I have been exploring the possibility of somehow avoiding to pay these fees and have not come up with any answer.  My first approach was to have individuals who are taking out books from an adjacent county library to pay for that service directly to that library.  That approach did not work as there was a law passed in 1887 that provides that every citizen in Wisconsin is entitled to "free" library services.  But we all know there is no free lunch.  We all end up paying for it one way or another.

I was able to have Brown County provide us figures on which townships are utilizing their services, and it comes as no surprise that Luxemburg Village, and Red River Township have the greatest percentage of the circulation.  Now, we could open a library in Luxemburg, but that would cost us about $280,000 per year, and unless Kewaunee County took over the management of the entire library system in our County making it a consolidated library, we'd still receive invoices from Brown County.  That idea has very little appeal for both economic and management reasons.  Both the Algoma and Kewaunee Libraries are well managed and operated by the cities.

What seems to me to be very unfair is the way we have been allocating the cost of the Brown County invoicing.  Take for instance the 2014 Brown County invoice which is represented in the table below. We were invoiced $56,000 for some 23,589 items circulated to Kewaunee County residents.  That equates to an average of $2.37 per item circulated.

What the county has been doing, per directions from the Department of Revenue (DOR) is allocating the cost of out of county library invoice by equalized value.  So, take a look at the table below.  You can see a township like Pierce with total circulation of 87 items paying $2,747.80 or $31.58 per item.  Or Ahnapee with 279 items paying $2,910.41 or $10.43 per item.  Now have a look at the village of Luxemburg.  They had 7,552 circulated items to their residents and ended up paying $0.67 per item.

Now using those three same townships with services allocated by percentage of use versus distribution by equalized value, the numbers would be significantly different.  Pierce Township with .037% of the use would be paying $206.54, Ahnapee Township with 1.18% would be paying $662.34  and Luxemburg Village with 32.01% of the use would be paying $17,928.36.

After looking into this with the DOR and Department of Public Instruction (DPI) it seems there just might be some room to change the way this is allocated.  If we cannot change this allocation within the current rules, I believe it is time to go to the legislature to see if they can change the rules allowing a more equitable distribution of these charges.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Processing of Manure on the farm? It is here, it is now!

Time and time again I have heard from the local Kewaunee County environmentalists, “it will be years and years before we have efficient manure processing technology that will make any difference in our County.”  Well, I am happy to report that, once again, they are incorrect.  It won’t be years before our local CAFOs are running fully integrated manure processing systems that can concentrate nutrients and remove up to 65% of the water.

On November 5th, a number of Kewaunee County Board Supervisors attended a tour of Digested Organics (DO) fully integrated manure processing installation at Majestic Crossing Dairy in Sheboygan Falls.  Supervisors, Bob Weidner, Tom Romdenne, Ron Paider, Ron Heuer and John Mastilar, were among a group of about 30 people to take a tour of this new manure processing system. Joining them were other guests from around the State including Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel and his Section Chief Sara Walling, representatives from 4 counties as well as numerous dairies including several Kewaunee County CAFOs (Ducats, Pagel's and Ebert’s). 

Digested Organics began building the Majestic Crossing IMMS in late July and it is now running. The Majestic Crossing Dairy Integrated Manure Management System (IMMS) is designed to process 20,000 gallons of raw manure per day -this installation  sized for the dairies 650 cows. The system has an integrated high efficiency digester (90% organic solids conversion to biogas and approx. 70% methane content) combined with a nutrient concentration/water reclamation system that takes the digestate from the digester and concentrates the key nutrients into roughly 35% of the volume, reclaiming the balance of 65% as reusable water.

While the digester is still under construction (expected to producing biogas bay the end of the month), we witnessed their system process raw manure, pressed through 2 screw presses. During the tour, DO processed this effluent, which is even more difficult to process than digestate with ease, producing concentrate from the effluent and water that was drinkable!

After 2 successful pilot programs in Michigan and Wisconsin, the IMMS was officially launched during this years World Dairy Expo week. It is simple, highly automated and designed to operate virtually round the clock. Modular and scalable, DO’s COO Chris Maloney says DO based its design philosophy on improving operational optionality and flexibility, reducing volume in hauling and spreading and lowering those costs. He further stated that DO focuses it's philosophy around the 3 cornerstones in manure management; 1)Efficient harvesting of the energy, 2) Separating and concentrating the nutrients for crops and 3) Reclaiming the water with high enough quality for the animals to drink, suitable (and permitable) for discharge into a nearby waterway) and/or used for flushing, washing or cooling on the farm. 

So here is how it works.  Manure is scraped in to a pit and then pumped to screw presses where the coarse solids are separated and dropped into a retaining area. Currently, Majestic Crossing is land applying the solids but may decide to dry them and reused as bedding in the future. The liquid effluent from the presses is then processed by DO’s proprietary BioMicronizer™ Solids Disintegration System.  Fine solids are “exploded” through a high pressure device, creating a homogeneous feedstock with a dramatic increase in surface area and reduced particle size—the ideal combination for faster anaerobic digestion.  This effluent is also dosed with a custom-formulated additive called BioSupport™, which provides trace minerals and bio-activators that accelerate the digestion process.  The disintegrated liquids then enter the BioEliminator™, a patent-pending digester that utilizes internal bio-media to house and retain microbes for faster digestion and cleaner biogas.  The digester is 100,000 gallons (5-day residence time) and runs year round at a constant 100°F.  After the BioEliminator, the digested manure (digestate) goes through a Nutrient Concentration & Water Reclamation System™ (NCWR) to produce concentrated liquid fertilizer and clean water for reuse or discharge.  This patent-pending system utilizes advanced ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO) technologies, along with a unique combination of polishing steps, to produce high quality water for reuse.
So, how clean is the water coming out of this system?  Very clean and we all drank it, in fact, Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel was one of the first to line up for a drink!

From L to R in the background, Supervisor John Mastilar, Chris Maloney, Digested Organics COO, Secretary Ben Brancel and Bobby Levine, CEO of Digested Organics.

So, the metrics that DO represented to us at last winters board meeting are being met today at Majestic Crossing Dairy. 65% water recovery and clean enough that it can be discharged.  Think of what this could mean to our county.  We have in excess of 600 million gallons of liquid manure in our Kewaunee. What if we could process 400 million gallons of that manure and remove 65% of the water before it is transported to the fields for application? That would be the equivalent of approximately 48,000 tanker truck loads that would not have to run down the highways and a reduction of 260 million gallons of liquid that would not go on the fields.  

This can be achieved and the technology exists today! Our farmers understand that it is imperative we reduce the number of gallons of liquid manure going out on our fields. The time for action is now…and, this can be done in fairly short order, it will not take years.  

Stand by, more information to come soon..............................

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Kewaunee County’s Library Dilemma

I have researched on our library situation in the county and following are my thoughts and possible approaches to dealing with this issue. 

Kewaunee County does not have a consolidated library system.  Therefore according to WI Statute 43.12, we are subject to receiving invoices from libraries in those counties who are adjacent to Kewaunee County who provide library services to our residents. 

The Algoma Library System does provide a service to the residents of Luxemburg.  However, the city of Luxemburg does not have a library.  Many of residents of Luxemburg and those people residing in the western part of our county, as a convenience, go to the Brown County system to get their reading and entertainment material.  Those circulations represent the vast majority of the total circulation provided by the Brown County System for our residents.  Also, circulation at the Denmark High School for Kewaunee County residents who attend that school are counted in the circulation. 
In as much as WI Statute 43.12 has been around since 1995, Brown County could have billed Kewaunee County for services they provided to Kewaunee County residents much earlier.  It wasn’t until 2013, that Kewaunee County received their first bill from Brown County Library system.  So, as could be imagined, when we received our first bill in 2013, it came as a big unwelcome surprise.

We pay both Manitowoc and Brown County for services.  Manitowoc is a couple of thousand a year, however Brown County is another story.  We have many Kewaunee County residents who are using the Brown County System and therefore we receive a sizable bill from Brown County each year.  We receive a billing that has a lag time of two years, and for the past 3 years, we have paid the Brown County Library System the following payments;
$68,404 fee for circulation in 2011 paid in 2013
$61,783 fee for circulation in 2012 paid in 2014
$53,244 fee for circulation in 2013 paid in 2015
$54,970 estimated fee for circulation in 2014, payable in 2016 (Budgeted number, actual TBD)

So, in four years we will have paid $238,401 for circulation to Kewaunee County residents.  So the question begs itself, what are the options for Kewaunee County projecting out over the next 10 years we will have paid well over $600,000 for those services.  Well, the options are:
A.)   Have the State change the law
B.)    Form a Consolidated Library System in Kewaunee County
C.)    Continue paying Brown and Manitowoc Counties as called for in WI Statute 43.12  

Option A - Looking into changing the law.  43.12 is comprised of 7 paragraphs that deal with how counties are billed and how payment occurs.  It seemed reasonable to add a paragraph that would read
as follows;   paragraph 8 --- If a county does not maintain a consolidated public library and wishes not to incur payments to an adjacent county's consolidated public library for their residents loaning books from that consolidate public library, will, by means of a county board referendum, be required to notify those adjacent county's consolidated library systems to invoice any resident from their county directly for any service(s) provided to that resident.

This would not be legally acceptable as there is an 1871 law on the books that provides that each and every resident of Wisconsin is entitled to receiving “free” access to library services.  So option A is not viable.

Option B - Could Kewaunee County form their own consolidated library system?  The answer is yes, however unless another branch were to open in Luxemburg the problem would still exist.  Currently, the Algoma Library spends about $290K per year to provide library services, while Kewaunee spends about $240K per year.  Based on those numbers, one could assume that to open a branch in Luxemburg, it would cost a minimum of $200K to $225K a year.  So a total consolidated library could run the county a total of $750K a year for the three libraries.  Assume Algoma, Kewaunee and Luxemburg cumulatively contribute a combined $440K.  That would leave the county paying $300K per year for an integrated consolidated service.  This option would cost the county much more than we are currently paying Brown County for their services and therefore is not likely a feasible option.

Option C – Continue as we are with libraries in Algoma and Kewaunee with continued payment to the Brown County Library System.  Yes we are paying about $57K per year, but that is more palatable than paying a potential $300K per year.

Another consideration that could be visited would be; is the village of Luxemburg willing to invest in a Library that would take a large percentage of the circulation away from Brown County?  That is a village decision.  Costs to the village and county would be higher overall.  But would the cost be well worth the service for the residents?  

For the moment the only conclusion I can draw is that we are better off staying with the billing from Brown County.  In other words, no change.  But I, and I am sure, the Board is open to any and all recommendations. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Capital Power Tisch Mills Wind Farm Information

Since the Kewaunee Star-News printed the story about the Capital Power ( hereinafter referred to as CP, I have received many emails and calls as to what the county might do in regard to this development.  There were additional questions concerning the impact on land values, impact on health, etc.  I will provide the best possible update here so everyone understands where Kewaunee County is at this moment regarding this development.  I apologize for the long read, but this is a convoluted story.

I want it understood from the beginning of this discussion that I am personally opposed to the construction of wind turbines for a lot of reasons primarily because they are an unreliable source of renewable energy.  When the wind blows you get results, otherwise nothing!  Even the power companies do not embrace this technology because they are required to provide a baseload of energy, and wind turbines do not provide a baseload.  These energy companies have had this rammed down their throat by Congress where the AWEA lobbyists have been working overtime.  So, if you are in love with wind turbines, you may not want to read the rest of this.  

This industry would not exist if it were not for both the Investment Credits and PTC (Production Tax Credits), of your tax dollars the industry is receiving.  The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) admits, it is unlikely there would be any growth in this sector if it weren’t for these subsidies.  Read more about that here --

To start, we might want to understand the history of wind turbines in Kewaunee County and the State in general.  The first wind turbines in the state of Wisconsin appeared in Lincoln Township in 1999.  Even back then these small turbines, 220 ft, compared to today’s turbines, 525 ft. caused a lot of controversy.  Shadow flicker, noise, TV interference, health issues, land values, etc., etc. caused neighbors problems and some decided to sell their properties and relocate.  In the end, two homes in that area were bulldozed after being purchased by the developer. 

After the wind turbines went online in Kewaunee County, the Lincoln Township Board of Supervisors approved a moratorium on new turbine construction.  The purpose of the moratorium was to delay new construction of wind turbines for eighteen months, giving the township the opportunity to assess the impacts of the 22 turbines installed by Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPSC) and Madison Gas and Electric (MG&E), which went online in June, 1999.  You can read a recap of the concerns that prevailed at that time. Read the Excerpts from the Final Report of the Township of Lincoln Wind Turbine Moratorium Committee here.

Granted, this turbine farm was a first, and a lot needed to be learned by both the developers and the population affected by the installation of turbines.  A lot has been learned since the time that first installation occurred, but unfortunately, the wind developers and their strong lobbyists in Madison have the deck stacked in their favor while local government has very little to say.

On Oct 1, 2009, then Governor Doyle signed into law, Wisconsin Act 40 that created the framework to allow for limited and uniform regulation in regard to wind energy systems.  Through Act 40, the legislature directed the Public Service Commission (PSC) to promulgate rules that would specify maximum restrictions a municipality could impose on wind energy systems in the State of Wisconsin.

Subsequently, the PSC established a 15 person Wind Siting Council that ultimately devised the rules that were set forth in PSC 128.  The problem with that council is that 10 of the 15 member council had vested interest in wind development or were employed in the wind business.  Do you suppose there was a little bias in the ultimate rule development?

In December 2012, the PSC came out with their new ruling on the siting of wind turbines in the state of Wisconsin.  With this 12 page document ( PSC 128 PDF), the PSC took away all rights from the local government and transferred that power to the PSC which is comprised of three commissioners. Take the time to scan the PSC 128 PDF as it contains the rules as to how close a wind turbine can be to a home or property line.  I am sure for those folks who live in, and, or near this wind farm you will not be happy about it.

When you read the story in the Star-News, it sounded as though the majority of the CP Tisch Mills Wind Farm development would be in Manitowoc county.  That is true as more land is contracted in Manitowoc County than Kewaunee County.  But imagine, if you will, a corridor as follows: South City limits of Kewaunee, West on Highway 29 to Townhall Road, East to Highway 42 and South to the City limits of Two Rivers.  Those are kind-of the boundaries for this wind farm where the wind turbines will be sited.  In this corridor, there were 84 turbine siting locations.  I say were, because that is when Element Power, the original developer had already gone to the FAA and sited those turbines on the land they had leased, those leases now owned by CP.  Some time ago, I had gone on to the FAA site and pulled down all the GPS locations and plotted on a map.

I have spoken to both Matt Martin, a business development employee of CP based in Boston as well as a Mr. Barry Fladaboe, a field manager, who is employed by CP and is based in Minnesota about the Tisch Mills project.  Both confirmed CP will go forward with this development.  They are now looking at equipping this farm with 3.5 megawatt generators perched on top of towers that will give the entire turbine a combined height of 525 feet.  That would make these turbines nearly twice as high as the turbines we currently have in Lincoln Township and some 28 feet higher than the turbines in the Shirley Wind Farm located West of Denmark.

In the 2008/2009 time period, Element Power signed contracts with various landowners in West Kewaunee Township and Carlton Townships.  That land that is either on, or accessed through; Hospital Road, Krok Road, Angle Road, Hwy 42, Townline Road, Townhall Road, Woodside Road, Old Settlers, County Trunk G, Sandy Bay Road, Nuclear Road and County Trunk BB.  This land is under a 10 year contract and the landowners have received a check for $1,000 a year to keep these contracts in place.  These contracts cannot be cancelled and are quite ironclad, they are written all in favor of the developer.  I can only assume the people that signed these contracts had no idea what they were signing up for and/or received bad legal advice.

I am very familiar with these contracts as Element Power had come to me with a contract and wanted me to sign up.  Needless to say, I didn't sign, but I do have a copy of the contract.

So what options are open to Kewaunee County.  Not many.  Over and over again, two of the biggest impacts these turbines have on a community are; decreased land values and health issues.  For example, depending on how close a property is to a wind turbine, the value of that land will be diminished by up to 30%.  This has been proven over and over not only in the United States, but around the world.  To that point, Kewaunee County has issued a letter to the State Attorney General requesting an opinion as to whether or not our county could impose a PVG (Property Value Guarantee).

Why a PVG?  It has successfully been imposed in both Tennessee and North Carolina in the past.  Wind Farm developers continuously deny their turbines have any impact on land values. However, over and over again the overwhelming statistics support the claim of reduced property prices.  How would it work?  At the time a developer would begin developing, they would be required to have all land and homes within a certain distance of any wind turbine appraised.  That appraised value would be the base value of the land/home and if an owner decided to sell later, the wind developer would guarantee that original value plus or minus any increase or decrease due to market conditions.  A comparable home in a non-wind turbine area of the same value would be used to determine the sale price.  The wind developer would be required to put a large sum of money in an escrow fund controlled by a third party to ensure funds would be available at the time a home would be sold.

On the health side, in the Shirley wind farm, there have been three families that have vacated their homes and moved away from the wind farm because their health was impacted once the wind turbines were turned on.  The health problems have to do with the effect of the noise generated by wind turbines, specifically the infrasound that adversely affects people living in their vicinity.  People who are adversely affected cite sleep deprivation, severe headaches, increased blood pressure, equilibrium issues and increased level of stress as their symptoms.

The Brown County Health Department has had numerous hearings on the health of the folks living in and around the Shirley Wind Farm.  On December 15th, they will release their decision.  They could choose to do nothing, or they could shut down the Shirley Wind Farm as a result of the injuries this farm has caused the residents.  This will be a very important decision.  If the health board issues an order to shut down the wind farm, that would have an impact on any other developer who is thinking of building here, including CP.

If these wind generators are built, the townships affected and county would receive a utility tax of some type.  The problem once again though is loaded on the taxpayer's plate as they will bear the brunt of the negative issues of having turbines in their back yards.

As this issue moves forward, I will keep you informed as to any changes.  A friend of mine who is vehemently opposed to wind development and the taxpayer money being spent on this form of energy has had a number of T-shirts printed with this statement.  Somehow for me, it really sums it up.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Kewaunee County wells data, another way to look at it

As you may have followed, I have not been enthralled with the newspaper reporting of the status of our wells in Kewaunee County.  For example, we have read over and over “30% of the wells in Kewaunee County are contaminated.”  That is simply not true, and that myth needs to be corrected.  If 30% of the wells in our county were contaminated, we’d have a whopping 1,440 wells contaminated, when in fact, we have so far validated that 180 wells are contaminated and that translates to 3.79% of our county wells in the county with known contamination at this time.   Bit of a difference, isn’t it?  One would only hope that some of this data might be published.

I will also reiterate, I continue to believe we have a serious problem with both the surface and groundwater in the county and, I also will work with whomever to solve the problem.  This will not happen overnight though.  Although our goal should be to have 100% of our wells clean, I believe I can safely say, that no matter what this county does to correct the problem it will never achieve a 100% record.  Why?  Because there are too many sources of contaminates that can cause a well to go bad. 

In the following tables I have taken the cumulative percent of unsafe wells voluntarily tested by township for the period 2004 -2014.  This data has been amassed by Davina Bonness who is the Department Head of our Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation group.  That information in the following tables is highlighted in blue. 

Unfortunately, we do not have an accurate breakdown of the number or wells by each township.  We do however, have the rural address points, and by taking the number of rural address points and dividing it into the total number of wells in the county, we can closely estimate the number of wells in each township.  It is not perfect, but very close.  The reason it is not perfect is, some addresses have more than one operational well.  This data is highlighted in yellow on the tables.

When reviewing the data from this perspective, it reveals about 3.79% of the counties wells tested were found to be contaminated. This considers that we only have data on 13.05% of all county wells that have been tested.  It also clearly highlights that the vast majority of the problems are in the townships of Red River, Lincoln, Casco and Luxemburg where we have the Karst featured land.  These four townships represent 42.4% of the counties wells and 71.1% of the contaminated wells.

I happen to believe Agriculture can continue to grow and flourish in Kewaunee Co. but at the same time they will have to play a major role in contributing towards cleaning up our water problem.  This will take investment by all farms in the county because as I recall, all cows poo and pee, not just cows on the CAFOs.  Last December I presented a plan to the board on manure processing and how, with manure processing we could effectively reduce the amount of manure going to the fields by 70%.  Since that meeting I have been closely watching the advances being made in the manure treatment field. 

As you may recall, a company called Digested Organics was at that board meeting and answered some questions as to how their IMMS technology/system worked.  I had reviewed a number of systems and found them to have a fully integrated and modular manure treatment system that harvests energy and generates biogas, concentrates and captures nutrients for crops and reclaims clean water for farm use. 

Their first commercial installation of this system is being commissioned this month at Majestic Meadows dairy in Sheboygan Falls.  I have been keeping a very close eye on the results, and am extremely encouraged by what I am seeing so far.  It appears the performance metrics they were projecting are going to be achievable.  Simply stated, they are removing about 65% of the water from the manure and turning it into potable water for the cows to drink.  What does this mean?  A 2,000 cow dairy today produces about 9.8 M gallons of liquid manure when you consider the parlor water into that number.  By removing 65% of the water, 6.4 million gallons of that manure would be removed as reusable water for the animals or farm and would not have to go out on our roads in manure trucks or on the fields.  The remaining 35% would contain more concentrated amount of nutrients that is both separated and captured for more targeted delivery to the fields.


Another benefit is that all that water doesn’t have to be stored, therefore freeing up space in pits which would eliminate the emergency spreading situations we seem to find ourselves in almost every year.  Digested Organics is just one of the companies building and developing manure treatment facilities in Wisconsin. This technology is both commercially available and at our doorstep and it won’t be long before our farmers start having them constructed in Kewaunee. As I have said before, we need a proactive strategy that incorporates these kinds of treatment technologies to help improve our ground & surface water while continuing to support the important dairy industry and the hundreds of jobs that it employs.

I will continue to keep you apprised of developments as we advance our overall County strategy.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

It’s Budget Time at the County

We are in the midst of the budgeting process right now in the County and like every year, there are challenges and changes.  Emotions run high throughout the County organization as the budget sets the course the County will be pursuing.  And as emotions run high, sometimes issues are misinterpreted and misconstrued.  I would like to dispel one myth that is circulating, i.e., Kewaunee County is no longer going to fund KCEDC (Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation).  That is false.  Here is the history of KCEDC from the County Board minutes perspective.

First, KCEDC is a separate 501C organization that Kewaunee County does not control.  We are only a cash contributor to the organization.  They have their own board of directors and leadership.  Kewaunee County does not direct KCEDC, nor does KCEDC report to the County, but we do have a position on their board, currently is filled by Supervisor Gary Paape from Ahnapee Township. 

In 2004, the County passed a resolution that funded $50,000 to the KCEDC to get the organization started.  That initial funding was intended to be our total commitment.  No additional funding going forward, however, that is not what happened.  After the initial funding of $50K in 2004, the county continued to fund KCEDC.  Kewaunee County is the largest contributor to KCDEC and the balance of their operating budget is made up from donations from the municipalities and private corporations.

From 2005 through 2014, the County continued funding KCEDC at the rate of $40K per year.  For the budget year 2015, the County reduced the funding to $30K and for the 2016 fiscal year the County intends funding at $30K.  So all in, from 2004 through 2016 the County will have invested $510,000 into KCEDC.

So, the question is, why is the County reducing their spending on KCEDC?  Quite simply, in as much as the county will be taking direct control over the tourism marketing aspects for the county, KCEDC will be doing less work.  In the 2015 budget we took the $10K we had not provided to KCEDC and intended to spend that money on origination market advertising to drive business to Kewaunee County.  We asked KCEDC if they would place those ads and they chose not to do that.  KCEDC made it clear, that rather than focusing on tourism efforts, they would rather focus on the commercial aspects of the county which includes assisting existing businesses with their growth and working to retain businesses that are already operating. 

In the end, given our dismal financial projections, we did not spend that $10K and it remained in our general fund.  Now the KCEDC has submitted invoices to the county for a marketing study they chose to complete, a study the county never approved.  Going forward to 2016, the county will add a PIO/Tourism (Public Information Officer) person to our staff in order to focus on rebuilding our county image and pulling together our county tourism assets (see below for more details).

Why does our county image need repair?
Did you read the Star-News Saturday, October 3, 2015 issue?  If you did, you saw, one more time, the same negative coverage of our county (3 pages out of an 8 page section) that we have seen way too often.  Seems like every week we have the same reporter, reporting the same story about how CAFOs are fouling creeks, waterways and wells.

This continued negative coverage of our county is having an effect on all of us.  In that same Oct 3 article, an individual claimed they cannot sell their home because of its proximity to a CAFO.  Well, I received a call a few weeks ago from a real estate agent who lost two real estate sales as a result of the buyer having read the continuous barrage of these negative reports.  These negative stories not only negatively impact real estate values, but also have impact on visitation/tourism to our County’s restaurants, retail shops and other touristic venues.
Yes, the environmentalists have brought the issue to the forefront, no doubt about that.  Now we have to work to fix the problems without further damaging the community.  The esteemed Star-News reporter could have reported on the unprecedented cooperation Kewaunee County is getting from the DNR, DATCP, NRCS and USDA, but chose instead to continue to regurgitate the same story we have read over and over and over.  Is that really good reporting?   I believe it is not.  A news organization should be balanced in their reporting.  I’m not sure we are getting that from Gannett and Star-News.

Just Google “Kewaunee County” and, you will see that we are well-known for our polluted water.  These news stories are online, and are picked up across our state and beyond.  I recently attended a Wisconsin Counties Association meeting in La Crosse, Wisconsin and no less than four other county board chairman approached me and said words to this effect: “I am sure glad I’m not in your shoes with all the bad publicity on your polluted water.”  

County Response on bad press
From the County’s perspective, we can do one of two things.  Continue to sit back and allow the image of our County to be further tarnished, or take a proactive approach in an attempt to change the tide of bad press.  We are encouraging our Board to do the latter by adding a person to the County Staff who will act as both PIO (Public Information Officer) and County Tourism Coordinator.

We have an opportunity to grow our tourism going forward, but it is not going to happen without a concentrated effort to pull all County tourism assets and activities together at some point.  Initially, the PIO/Tourism Coordinator will be charged with getting no less than two positive press releases out per week on Kewaunee County.  There are plenty of positive things going on in our county; they just aren’t being reported.

One other budget highlight
Our County now has 142 employees, down by 34 employees from 176 in April of 2013.  The reductions of employees came as a result of changes in the way the county is conducting business and through general restructuring.  For example, in Human Services, we were able to reduce our workforce by 7 employees as a result of a state regionalized Family Care initiative.  In the highway department we reduced the number of employees from 39 in 2013 to 27.5 in the 2016 budget.  This was achieved largely as a result of good resource management by our new Commissioner, Todd Every.  Additionally, we gained efficiencies in the administration and as several townships contracted with private companies for snow removal, we required fewer people.

We have, department by department, pushed for more efficiencies.  As a result of more focused management we are providing the same services with fewer employees. To that point, in our 2016 budget we have proposed a 1.5% one-time wage supplement for our employees.  We have asked a lot of our employees.  In 2013 and 2014 they had a 0% increase in salary.  In 2015 they received a 1% increase in salary.  But at the same time we have twice increased the employee cost of health insurance.  I am hopeful the full Board can get behind this initiative.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kewaunee County Positive Movement, September 3, 2015
Much of my reporting on Kewaunee County has focused on the major issues facing our County with the top two being the challenges we have with groundwater and surface water and the financial well-being of the County.  Amidst the challenges, we are making headway and are actually setting the standard in some areas for other counties to follow.

I am going to focus on two Departments in this report, Public Health and Land Information.  Steve Hanson heads up the Land Information Department and Cindy Kinnard heads the Health Department.  Both are doing an excellent job for the county.

In addition to having the responsibility of maintaining all land records for the county, Steve Hanson has taken the initiative to move Kewaunee County ahead utilizing current technology to display all the information he has amassed in the county database on property.   Other than attorneys and title companies who use land information on a daily basis, very little is known about the work Steve has done for the county.

Implements of Husbandry
As you may know, the State recently changed the weight rules for IOH (Implements of Husbandry) also known as Farm Equipment.  The new rules allow individual townships to set the weight allowed on each township road.  This was done to provide more control at local level to control weights for both county and town roads.

This, potentially, was a huge problem.  How to communicate this information on a timely basis?  How do you coordinate the activities between the townships, the manure haulers, the farmers, and law enforcement?  Steve stepped up and developed an online tool that answered all those questions.  By the way, he is the first in the state to do so. 

So for example, let’s take a road that traverses two or three townships.  Each township has a username and password to access the system and each township can assign weight restrictions to that road.  It could be conceivable, because of the terrain that a particular road runs through, that different weight restrictions could be assigned to a stretch of road by the individual townships.    

In collaboration with Ruekert-Mielke, a technology vendor used by Kewaunee County, Steve developed a smart phone app that can be used by all parties (Townships/Farmers/Haulers/Law Enforcement) to handle this information.  So, utilizing the example above, the individual townships would log into this app and would code their weight data for each road.  By doing this, they establish a color coded system that identifies weights for the various roads and the farmers, haulers and law enforcement personnel can then access this information.  The farmers/haulers then plan their routes and receive the hauling permits from the individual townships.  It is conceivable that eventually the entire permitting process could be completed online.

You can view this IOH mapping by clicking on "Implements of Husbandry Map" under Quick Links on Kewaunee County's home page at

GIS (Geographic Information System)
This is a feature that I personally enjoy using.  You are used to using the printed version of a plat book?  Well, now it is available online utilizing HTML 5 both for your home computer and a smart phone and it provides a whole lot more information!  I am going to focus on the smart phone app that has been put in place by Steve for Kewaunee County.  This app is very similar to a navigational system in your auto.  It allows you to view the map as you are driving through any of the roads in the county and to identify any piece of property you are passing.

Here is how you can use this app on your smart phone or computer.  Go to   In the left column click on Land Records.  This will bring you to the Land Records Portal.  Go to the lower center of the page and you will click on Public GIS Map (HTML5) link.

Now you will see a map of Kewaunee County.  In the lower left hand corner you will see a circular icon and when you click on it, will allow you to either Find Me, Track Me, or Follow Me.  In this example we will use Find Me.  Providing your GPS is turned on, your location will appear on the map, then by pinching the graphic you can zoom in.  By zooming in, you will see individual land tracts listed by number.  By clicking on any of these links the owners name will appear along with address and tax and assessment info.  If you use the Follow Me link, your GPS will link you to the specific location you are traveling through and you will be able to see all that information on each land tract.

Lincoln Township WGNHS Groundwater and Bedrock Mapping Project
Eventually this project will be expanded to all the townships in the county.  Currently, in conjunction with Lincoln Township, the county is contributing $10,000 from our land information office fund balance, and $10,000 from our 2016 Wisconsin Land Information Program base budget grant money toward this project. 

This groundwater and bedrock mapping project will be done by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.  It will utilize well-drilling log data along with subsurface sonar data that is collected as part of this project.  In combination with our existing soils and LIDAR GIS data, the data collected and the products produced as a result of this project should give us a much clearer and more detailed picture of the karst topography that exists in the Town of Lincoln.

Long term, this new GIS database could provide data to a farmer applying liquid manure on a field.  By accessing the soil depth picture while driving across a field the amount of manure spread could be directly linked to the applying machinery. 

Public Health
About a year ago, Cindy Kinnard was promoted to head up the County Public Health Department and has done a great job leading that department.  A number of new initiatives have been undertaken by this department that are noteworthy to include;

Beach Signage - beach signs/flags: Kewaunee County is the first county in the state to initiate the use of flags to indicate e-coli levels in the water.  The system was based off the "dangerous currents" system used internationally.  Green indicated safe levels of e-coli, yellow indicates a caution (levels are slightly elevated), and red indicated a dangerous level of e-coli in the water.  To go along with these flags, the WI DNR created a specific sign to be used to indicate what the colors of the flags mean.  The sign is posted in three languages (English, Spanish, and Hmong). The Kewaunee Beach has one sign/flag in use, and Crescent Beach (Algoma) has three signs/flags in use.

Farmers Market – our WIC department has initiated a Farmers Market in the parking lot of the Health and Human Service Center once a month from July - October.  It is called the Healthy Choices Market. The market has farmers present which are WIC/Senior Farmer's Market approved.  This means that our WIC clients as well as seniors citizens who receive Farmers Market vouchers can shop for produce locally.  The public is welcome to come to this market too and enjoy the fresh produce.

Flu Vaccines - this fall the health department will be reinstating the Adult Flu Vaccine Program.  We will be offering flu shots to adults throughout the county.  We are hoping to vaccinate 200 Kewaunee County residents.  Shots will be $30 per dose.  Seniors can also use Medicare Part B to receive their flu shot.

Smiles for Life - the health department has partnered with Smiles for Life.  This is a non-for-profit organization that will provide dental screenings, cleanings, and sealants in the public schools within our county.  All children between ages 4 -18 can be served by this program.  Children will received up to three dental visits per school year (depending on their need).  Services will be billable to BadgerCare recipients; but are also available to children with no insurance, or families who would prefer to pay out-of-pocket.  Children and families are able to register right at school.  All services will be provided within the school day.

Website Updated - the Public Health Department have finally achieved a workable, user-friendly website for county residents to view.  In addition we have initiated use of various social-media avenues to educate the public on health topics, promote current events, and increase awareness of the services public health provides.  This website can be accessed by going to, then to Departments, then to Public Health.  Quarterly newsletters from the health department will be available later this fall.

A lot of good work being done in many areas of the county government.   This work is being done because there is focus in the departments and they are being encouraged by an engaged board with committees that are working directly with the departments.

Ground and Surface Water
I cannot write an update about the county without saying something about the ground and surface water issue as there is so much going on in this arena.  Today, in Luxemburg, I attended the first Technical Advisory Group (TAG) headed up by Jimmy Bramblett, the WI NRCS head State Conservationist.  This group will focus on quantifying solutions to improving the Kewaunee and Ahnapee watersheds.  It is anticipated that it will take upwards of two years for this group to hammer out recommendations and plans that will make long-term positive changes in our primary watershed areas. 

Last week, we had our first DNR Committee meetings and they went very well.  Senior DNR management is engaged with us to help identify solutions both short-term and long-term for our well problems.  I attended the Short-Term Solutions Group in Oshkosh and I was pleased with the headway we are making. 

The point was made clear that folks who have wells that are contaminated need assistance with clean water now!  However, we don’t know who they are or how many there are in the county.  We need to determine that first.  We really don’t know how many people in our county have been buying water to meet their daily needs.

Also, we need to have a protocol in place that spells out how a well is determined to be a “contaminated well.”  On the surface, that sounds pretty easy.  You test a well and it is either contaminated with nitrates or e-coli and bacteria or it is not.  Well, in my mind, there is more to it than that.  We need to understand the type of contamination, and how that contamination occurred.  What if that well was- tested the second month and that same well has no contamination.  Is that deemed a contaminated well?