Monday, June 29, 2015

Kewaunee County Update, Jun 29, 2015

There’s a lot is going on in our county, Ground and Surface Water is always at the top of the list, Kewaunee Nuclear Plant, Highway and Solid Waste Department, Director Appointments, Financial Reporting, Search for new District 8 Supervisor, etc.   

Ground & Surface Water Reporting, Biased Reporting or Simple Mistake? - You decide
I, for one, am totally fed up, frustrated, and discouraged with the only source of information we have for news in our county.  That source is the Green Bay Press Gazette.
On one hand, I commend Karen Ebert Yancey (local reporter for Gannett) for attending many of the Kewaunee County Committee meetings and the Kewaunee County Board meetings and trying to report in a “fair and balanced” way.  On the other hand, I condemn reporters like Adam Rodewald, Green Bay Press Gazettes’ “Watchdog Reporter” who consistently writes misleading articles about our ground and surface water.  Is this by design, or is it simply that he does not fact-check his data?  Either way, his reporting seems to be somewhat flawed as it is all one-sided and not factual.

For example, in an article published on February 8, 2015, he wrote; “Nearly one-third of private drinking wells in Kewaunee County are contaminated with high levels of bacteria, according to a petition sent by local conservationists to the Environmental Protection Agency in October,” then on April 9, 2015, he wrote, “As many as 50 percent of private wells in the town of Lincoln and 44 percent of wells in neighboring Red River are contaminated, according to research compiled by the environmental groups,” then on June 10, 2015, he wrote, “The report focuses on 16 large dairy and beef farms, referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations, in Kewaunee County, where some studies suggest one-third of private drinking wells are contaminated with nitrates, E. coli and other harmful bacteria. These statistics are flat out false!  Our county has 4,600 wells which, according to Mr. Rodewald 30% of wells being polluted would mean that we have 1,380 of our county’s wells contaminated.  

Here are the real numbers on well testing in Kewaunee County.  Through the volunteer well testing program managed by the Kewaunee County Land and Soil Conservation office, for the period 2004 through 2014 (10 years), there were a total of 556 individual wells tested in the county.  Of those, 165, or 29.7% were found to be contaminated.  Keep in mind, there are many factors that affect these numbers to include, the location of testing (most wells tested have been in Lincoln, Red River, and Casco Townships where the majority of the Karst features exist), recharge events, time of year, etc.

Taking another look at more current data, for the period Jan 1, 2013 through Dec 31, 2014 there were 185 individual wells tested through the volunteer well testing program managed by the Kewaunee County Land and Soil Conservation office.  Of those 185 wells tested, 37, or 20% of those wells tested were unsafe due to being bacteria positive and/or having nitrates greater than 10 parts per million.  These numbers 165 wells contaminated over 10 years of testing or 37 wells contaminated over two years are a bit different than the 1,380 wells being contaminated as Reporter Rodewald suggests.

If there is any cover for Mr. Rodewald’s incorrect reporting, it might just be he is consistently being fed the wrong data from some of the folks who align themselves with Kewaunee Cares, Midwest Environmental Advocates and other environmental groups. 

So, what are the results of this biased, untrue reporting?  The general public in our state who read these articles conclude Kewaunee County is not a safe place to visit or live in.  Case in point, last week I received an email from a frustrated realtor who lost two real estate sales in the Casco area as a direct result of someone reading these articles in the press.  The continued misleading reporting by the Press Gazette and others is hurting our county, don’t kid yourself.  By the way, Mr. Rodewald’s articles are often times picked up by other papers and the misinformation is spread throughout the state and country.

I agree, our goal should strive to not have one well in the county that is contaminated.  Perhaps that goal is unattainable as there are other ways of contaminating a well other than manure.  We have a huge challenge in our county with an estimated 550 million gallons of liquid manure generated on an annual basis.  However, affordable manure processing technologies are available today that will allow our farmers to process and remove up to 70% of the water from that manure and to convert excess nutrients.  In discussions I have had directly with six of the largest dairy operators in our county, I can tell you they are on top of this.  They do not want to pollute and will, over the following months, begin investing millions of dollars in the digestive, ultra filtration and reverse osmosis systems that will meet the objective of removing 70% of the liquid from the manure and turning that water back to potable water that can be reused. 

Last December I presented a plan to the board that could essentially reduce the 550 million gallons of liquid manure to about 200 million gallons.  The plan consisted of three phases with Phase 1 goal was processing manure for 20,000 cows by year-end 2017 (this goal looks to be attainable).  Phase II goal was to have all farms with 200 cows or more processing their manure by year 2020.  And Phase III, time to be determined, would take excess nutrients, dry, pelletize, bag and sell out of the county.
Collectively our board, our Land Conservation office and the dairymen are working with our Legislators, the Governor’s office, DNR, DATCP, NRCS to find a source of low-cost loan money to drive this project through its various phases.  The initial investments will be made by the larger farmers as their scale allows them to invest in this kind of technology.  Large farms are here to stay, and these business men and women know that to continue to grow this type of investment is an absolute necessity.

As long as I am on the County Board, I will work to find solutions to our ground and surface water.  The solution is not to retard the growth of our vibrant dairy industry (that employs 1 out of every 5 residents) and to inhibit any chance we have for growth in tourism, but rather, find a solution that answers contamination issues whilst allowing the dairy industry to grow. 
At the end of my report, I have taken the liberty of including a rebuttal to the SRAP report which was written by Robert B. Levine, Ph.D. and Christopher D. Maloney.

Kewaunee Nuclear Plant – latest info
At this moment in time, it appears Carlton Township is accepting the latest appraisal of the Kewaunee Nuclear plant to be in the $455 million range with some $211 million of personal property and the balance of $244 million being real estate value.  To many, the $455 million seems to be a very high appraisal given a year ago (after the plant shut down) the Carlton Board of Review agreed to a $10 million valuation.  

Dominion asserts this plant has zero value other than the real estate property value.  Keep in mind, this plant is not producing any revenue and Dominion still has to decommission the plant before the property could be sold.  When Dominion acquired that plant, it was a profitable operating nuclear plant, but the purchase price was less than $200 million.

So what’s next?  On Jun 29th, the Carlton Board of Review (BOR) will have a hearing, and barring any adjustment, the $455 million value would be established.  Dominion has stated they will immediately appeal this value in court. 

So if Carlton BOR does accept the appraisal of $455 million, there will be a reapportionment of taxes across the county.  Good news, is that all residents would realize a real estate tax decrease. In court it could take a year or two to settle. 
In the 2016 tax year, assuming a $455 million value were placed on the Dominion property, Carlton Township would represent nearly 30% of the entire value of the county.  Remember, the total value of the county last year was a little over $1.4 billion and with the $455 million added to that, the total value would be close to $1.9 billion. Tax rates would once more be reapportioned.  Let's assume Dominion wins the argument of a lower value. The county would have to refund the tax overpayment by collecting money through taxes.

A couple of other major things to consider, if the $455 million appraisal stands, the Kewaunee School District will lose state aid of nearly $250,000, NWTC will stand to lose about $800,000 in state funding, and Kewaunee, your county, will be lose the entire $713,000 of utility tax money.  In as much as we have tax levy limits, the county would somehow have to find savings of $713,000 as an offset.  

Last year, the County along with Carlton had tentatively agreed to a deal with Dominion whereby plant would have a fixed value of $10 million in plant and land valuation. The agreement combined with State utility tax revenue, Dominion contributions and taxes would have assured the County and Carlton nearly $10 million for the next ten years.  Carlton Township elected to walk away from that deal. 

We have been communicating with our legislators concerning this entire process.  It seems to us, it is a bit unrealistic for the state to place the burden of determining the plant value on a county or a township.  Generally speaking, it is safe to assume that most counties or townships don’t have experience /expertise in a matter of this magnitude.  Keep in mind, most, if not all major decisions in nuclear operations lie at the federal and state level.  During all the years of operation of this plant, the state was responsible for collecting the utility taxes and they distributed them to the county and township.  Legislation needs to be adopted that addresses this issue for the future.

Kewaunee County Highway Department & Solid Waste
I am very happy to report that the Kewaunee County Highway Department have turned the corner and posted a 2014 performance that leaves them with a surplus of $153,000.  For the past five years preceding 2014, this department had lost $2.5 million cumulatively.  So, why the better performance?  First, we have a new Commissioner, Todd Every, who has managed the department.  Secondly, we have a good team of employees who have continued to innovate and adjust to the changes as they were implemented.  And last, but not least, we have an engaged Highway Committee that has painstakingly spent the time to guide that department towards break even, which is the goal!  If you get a chance, pass on the kudos to those folks.  Your Highway and Solid Waste Committee is headed up by Chairman Larry Kirchman and members include; Bruce Heidmann, Gary Paape, John Mastilar, and Tom Romdenne.

As reported earlier, the decision has been made to not go forward with any expansion of our landfill.  Now the committee has to deal with what to do with the landfill site.  They have a number of options to consider and are in the process of doing that at this time. 

New Members of Kewaunee County Management Team
Our new County Administrator, Scott Feldt, has gone through his 90 day review with flying colors and will continue forward leading the administration of the county.  I want to thank the Administrator for having the board in
volved in the selection and interview process of the new management positions we’ve added, and I assume this practice will be continued.

We have a new County Veterans Service Officer in the name of Jane Babcock who came to us with years of experience from Manitowoc County.  Dave Meyer has taken on the Department Head position at Promotion and Recreation, and Paul Kunesh was added earlier as Kewaunee County Director of Finance.  This position was sorely needed as we have not, in the past, received any kind of financial reporting that showed where we were financially by department at any time in the year.  Now Paul is hammering out those kinds of reports for us that can help us manage our county business.

District 8 Supervisor Position Open
Gordy Reckelberg, who has served on the Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors for the past five years, has resigned due to health considerations.  That means we have a vacancy in that District.  In order to be considered for the vacancy, a citizen must reside in County Supervisory District 8 located in the townships of Luxemburg (Ward 3) and Montpelier (Ward 3). A District map is available on the Kewaunee County website.

I want to, on behalf of the entire board, thank Gordy for all the years of service, both with the Highway Department, as an employee, and for his five years on the county board.

Response to the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project Report on Dairies in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin
By: Robert B. Levine, Ph.D. and Christopher D. Maloney | Digested Organics, LLC
As a manure management technology provider that works with both CAFOs and smaller farms in Wisconsin on a daily basis, we believe it is important to provide an independent response to the recently published SRAP report “The Rap Sheets: Industrial Dairies in Kewaunee County, WisconsinThe Regulatory Failure of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: A Threat to Public Health and the Environment.” to:
·         Correct some critical errors that continue to be repeated in the media
·         Refute the notion that these CAFO’s are willfully and negligently mismanaging their manure operations and
·         To focus on how appropriate on-farm manure management technologies can help mitigate the environmental impacts of current manure management practices. 
We agree that groundwater contamination is a serious issue in Kewaunee County, especially considering the geological Karst structure throughout the region.[1]  It is not factual, however, to state that “As of June 2013, 30.85 percent of tested drinking water wells county-wide contained nitrates and/or dangerous E. coli bacteria at levels deemed unsafe for human consumption by state and federal authorities”(pg. 7).  We believe the authors are referencing a Kewaunee County Land & Water Conservation Department (LWCD) report to the County Board that summarized data on 483 well samples analyzed between August 2004 and June 2013.[2] 
This was a voluntary testing program, whose stated goal is "to introduce private rural well owners to the importance of regular, periodic well testing" and does not represent a random sample of the estimated 4,600 wells in Kewaunee.  If we consider these to be the most up to date data, then it is accurate to say that 149 well samples, or 3.2% of all wells in the county and 30.8% of all samples tested, have been found at one point in the last 10 years to contain unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria and/or an elevated concentration of nitrate.
The severity of the issue notwithstanding, the report is wrong to focus exclusively on CAFOs as the source of the problem. Kewaunee has roughly 42,000 cows plus young-stock generating 550 million gallons of manure each year. And while the CAFO’s maintain a large percentage of the herd, there are still 148 non-CAFO dairies in the county. Certain groups would have us believe that CAFO’s are not only the problem, but that they are endangering local communities with negligence and intent.
We have been working closely with dairymen across the county and the State and can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. CAFO’s we talk with are actively investigating and/or pursuing on-farm manure treatment technologies that can rationally and cost competitively address the issue. We have yet to meet even one that doesn’t want to be a responsible environmental steward of the land and doesn’t take the issue of groundwater contamination seriously.
The authors suggest the best path forward is to get rid of CAFOs or at least “slow the rapid expansion and concentration of CAFOs in Wisconsin.”  This continues to be the now tired mantra of the Kewaunee CARES group and their affiliates and continues to ignore the fact that their stated goal would eliminate hundreds of jobs across this State’s largest industry as well as millions of dollars of rental income for local land owners.  We need more efficient dairy farms, not less, to meet the growing demand for food and Kewaunee’s CAFOs are some of our nation’s most productive.  We believe, as do most CAFOs, that growth in the dairy industry should not come at the expense of the environment. However it is well understood that because of the unique Karst geography in this region and the seasonal pattern of heavy rainfalls, any sized dairy following even today’s best management practices would still likely at some point contribute to groundwater contamination. 
Of course, the DNR could further tighten regulations on spreading, increase the number of inspections, add more fines and penalties for spills, etc., but all this would still barely move the dial on the groundwater issue. We believe it is time to have a more rational discussion on how we can help the dairy industry’s largest producers not only stay in business but grow, enabling even more jobs and more tax revenue for hurting counties like Kewaunee. It is time to get serious about adopting onsite manure treatment technologies that can start to address the challenge at its source—the farm. 
Digested Organics is one of several technology companies working to provide manure management solutions to the dairy industry in Wisconsin. Backed by industry leading performance guarantees, our fully integrated solution recovers energy from manure, producing on-farm heat and power while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reclaims clean, reusable water free of nitrates and bacteria.  Our Nutrient Capture and Water Reclamation (NCWR™) system is suitable for the largest of CAFO’s down to the smaller dairies and can turn 1,000 gallons of manure or digestate into 700 gallons of clean water and 300 gallons of concentrated liquid fertilizer.  A farmer using the NCWR™ system can reuse the water in his barn for flushing or washing, drinking water for the animals or it can be discharged into a nearby waterway with the appropriate DNR permit.  This equates to a 70% reduction in the number of manure truck trips on County roads.
The concentrated fertilizer produced in our process undergoes a significant reduction in pathogens or 100% of the pathogens can be removed by installing a final pasteurization process. It can then be applied at the right time throughout the growing season and at lower doses than raw manure when the plant needs it most - increasing plant uptake, reducing runoff and groundwater contamination, and improving yields.  In sensitive areas, farmers can also dry the concentrated fertilizer, creating an exportable solid product worth up to $115/ton. 
Our manure treatment technology is fully automated and cost competitive with any other system available today. It represents a solid investment for the future and for farmers looking to reduce their operating costs, gain efficiencies in their business, and reduce the environmental impact of their manure management operation.
Finally, we believe that Kewaunee, which has experienced more growth in their dairy industry than any other county in the State since 1983, has an opportunity to focus its collective energies around this important issue to help solve the actual problem, promote sustainable growth, and show strong leadership in the State. County Chairman Heuer and members of the board have already taken the first step by laying out a pro-business vision to solve the problem. We encourage all the stakeholders in Kewaunee County, including the authors of this SRAP report, to stop looking for someone to blame and force out of business and start working inclusively with County leadership, dairymen and others in the State trying to proactively solve this issue. It won’t happen overnight but it is possible to start today.