Sunday, January 25, 2015

Kewaunee Co. Update - Jan 22

from the Desk of Ron Heuer, Chairman of the Board

Improving our Groundwater and Surface Water
We have a challenging year ahead of us in the county.  The most pressing issues in 2015 facing our board in my opinion will be; the groundwater/surface water issue, disposition of our landfill, the Dominion settlement, a Property Value Guarantee (PVG) ordinance, and a focus on tourism growth.  In this update, I will try provide a brief description of each of those issues and where we are at this moment in time.

Ground water and surface water continues to be a major topic and threat to the well-being of both our citizenry as well as the dairy industry.  I feel confident we are making headway on this issue and are getting positive recognition from the DNR and DATCP in that they have now formed a Kewaunee County Task Force in Madison comprised of personnel from DNR, DATCP, NRCS and EPA to help our county to deal with the problem.  They had their first organizational meeting in Madison on December 22nd to chart their initiative and we (Kewaunee Co. Delegates) are having our first meeting with that group on Feb 4th to get the ball rolling.

In addition to working with these state agencies we have been working with our legislators Sen. Lasse and Assemblymen Joel Kitchens on this issue.  Assemblymen Kitchens did meet with the Governor and made him aware of both the problems we are experiencing with our groundwater as well as what our plausible solution would be.  It appears we will be getting support through the legislative branch as well.  The type of support we are looking to the DNR/DATCP and the legislative branch would be both a buy-in plus making low cost money available to all farmers allowing them to install manure processing systems.

The question prevails, what possibly can be done in our county to protect our groundwater from contamination going forward.  I have given this a lot of research and thought and fortunately in my previous life in the travel industry I was exposed to the cruise industry where they have been employing technology onboard ships for the past 15 years or so, to process all the sewage onboard on a daily basis and to extract the vast majority of water from the daily sewage onboard.  Their technology is very advanced and they have gotten their sewage residency time down to one day, this compares with current on farm technology where residency time averages about 27 days. 
Kewaunee County currently has about 75,000 head of cattle.  That number includes lactating cows, wet calves, open heifers and beef cattle.  Cumulatively, these cattle produce about 550 million gallons of liquid manure annually with about 58% of the total manure originating from 15 operating CAFOs in the county.  Because this manure contains so much water, the nutrient value per gallon is quite low which requires the farmer to haul somewhere between 18K -24K gallons per acre.  This represents 3 to 4, 6,000 gallon semi loads of liquid manure to each acre.  Simply stated, by reducing the amount of water in this liquid manure, we increase the nutrient value and thus reduce the number of truck loads required for each field.  By removing 70% of the water with a digester and a RO/UF (Reverse Osmosis / Ultra Filtration) process, the nutrient value of the remaining effluent would require one truck load of 6,000 gallons per acre to reach the same levels today with 3 loads.

My proposal for the county is a three phase approach.  With Phase I kicking off immediately and taking us through the year 2017.  During that time the primary goal would be to process manure for over 20,000 cattle with emphasis on the NW corner of the county where we have the greatest exposure for additional pollution of our wells.  Overall in our county, 30% of those wells tested have tested positive for either high levels of nitrates, e-coli or both.  If we could attain the goal of processing for 20,000 animals, we would, in effect be reducing the number of gallons spread on the fields by over 103,000,000 gallons annually.  That is significant, without question. 

Phase II goal would take us out to the end of year 2020 when we would have all farms in Kewaunee County with over 200 animal units or operating liquid manure operations having on-farm treatment of manure.  Yes, that is an aggressive goal and there is a lot to be done to hit that goal. 
Phase III goal – remember, we have reduced the water content of this manure and now more than likely we’d have excessive nutrients that could be transformed into a pelletized, slow release fertilizer that could be exported from the county, sold as a fertilizer for application elsewhere.

In order for any of this to work, we need buy-in from the governmental agencies, DNR, DATCP, NRCS and EPA.  We also need the DBA (Dairy Business Association) to get on board, we need the local farmers and the legislative body to get onboard as well.  Not an easy task, but doable.

Other important issues facing Kewaunee County in 2015
Other than the ground and surface water issues in the county, we also have to deal with our Kewaunee County Landfill, our deal with Dominion, a Property Value Guarantee ordinance and our overall approach to increasing Tourism in our county.

The Kewaunee County Landfill is at a crucial time, we have to decide; do we build our phase III which will require the county to borrow over $5M to build, sell the landfill to a private concern who would continue to operate the landfill or continue to operate that landfill with the current operations until it is full and then turn it into a transfer station.  Tough decision for the county, but one that has to be dealt with in the next 3 months or so.

Dominion had negotiated what the county thought was a fair payment over the following 10 years.  All in the deal that Dominion had put on the table was near the $10M mark which would have kept both the county and Carlton Township whole on payments over the next 10 years.  However, Carlton Township has to date not signed on to this deal and has retained new legal counsel to pursue a different avenue with Dominion.  Meantime, the county will have to negotiate a separate deal for the county.

For those of you that are not familiar with the proposed windfarm in southern Kewaunee Co. and Manitowoc County, a company by the name of Capital Power recently acquired the Element Power Tisch Mills wind farm from Element Power.  They are planning on installing about 80 wind turbines, each 496 ft. tall from Kewaunee City limits to the city limits of Two Rivers.  They have all the land contracted and providing they receive a power purchase agreement will build this windfarm.  The County has no say in the siting of these turbines as the State of WI has given that authority to the Public Service Commission, and PSC 128 outlines all the details in that regard.  However, one thing we can do to protect the value of our land is put in place a Property Value Guarantee ordinance which would require the windfarm developer to insure the value of individual’s homes in the affected area.   Therefore, a PVG ordinance as several hundreds of homes in the townships of Carlton and West Kewaunee County would be affected.

Many challenges and a lot of work ahead for this board.  I am happy to report that this board is engaged and are making good decisions for the taxpayers of the county.

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