Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kewaunee County Update - August 20, 2015

Kewaunee Nuclear Plant
In my update June 29th, I reported the dilemma facing the county with regard to the Carlton Township decision to allow to stand an appraisal of $457,000,000 for the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant.  The County has been working with the Legislature to find a way to mitigate some of the pain that will now be bestowed upon the county operations and the taxpayers of the county.  For the taxpayer, initially, all will be good.  Dominion will pay a tax on the $457M and all taxpayers in the county will realize a tax decrease.  However, what comes down the pike in the near future could turn out to be not so good.  Carlton Township along with their legal counsel have made the decision to let this play out in the courts. 

With a $457M value on the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant, Dominion will be paying several million dollars in taxes. Carlton Township will represent 26.98% of the entire equalized value of the county.  Therefore as I have stated before, it will be necessary to adjust everyone’s taxes in the county.  And, no doubt, everyone’s taxes will be reduced.  However, if, for example, Dominion prevails in the courts by proving the value of a shuttered nuclear plant is less than $457M, a real challenge to taxpayers in the county will be presented as, at that time, the Township will be required to refund overpayment of taxes to Dominion. 

At this point, any guess is speculation as to what the value is, so I’d rather stay away from that.  However, when Dominion paid just south of $200M for a nuclear plant that was at full production, it is hard to reconcile the value to be more than double for a nuclear plant that is not producing an no longer has an operating license.  Dominion continues to argue the plant value is zero. 

So, what if the courts were to rule the plant value at, let’s say, $100 million.  Initially, calculations would be made on how much tax had been paid by Dominion and the Township would be required to refund that money to Dominion.  Then the following year, the plant would be once again assessed and Dominion would be required to pay the taxes on that amount.  Keep in mind, the value of this plant, scrap or otherwise will continue to diminish as equipment and facilities are being torn down or disassembled.  But if Dominion accepts (without a fight) the assessment, taxpayers in the county could at that time, feel a positive impact from the increased assessed valuation on that plant.  Quite a complicated and costly venture all in. 

Read this part carefullyResidents of Kewaunee County do not understand the complexity of this problem.  They say for example, “with Dominion paying these increased taxes, the township and the county will be flush with money.”  That is not correct, because, by state law, we have a tax levy limit.  That limit will require the county to reapportion taxes to individual taxpayers.  The County, nor the Township, simply cannot keep the additional money received from Dominion while keeping the county taxes status quo.  The law does not allow us to do that.  Now add in one more element.  With the value on the plant of $457M, Kewaunee County loses $713K in utility payments.  Again, as a result of the tax levy limit, we cannot simply increase our taxes to cover that shortfall, a shortfall that will require the county to make cuts somewhere.  We are trying to cover that shortfall, by working with the legislature (Senator Lasee and Assemblyman Kitchens) to amend the current laws that deal with the utility payments so the county may continue to receive stepped-down payments regardless of the Nuclear Plant real estate tax implications. 

This is a work in progress and your board is working hard to find a path through this dilemma that is less painful than it currently appears to be. 

The 2016 Budget
It is early in the process, but as we stand at this moment in time, we could well face a deficit of an estimated $1.5M for next year.  That would mean we wouldn’t get any relief on the $713K shortfall on the Utility Tax and we wouldn’t find a way to mitigate some $415K on increased employee insurance costs and a number of other items that amount to $35K.  We are looking at many remedies, but none are in concrete yet, so stand by for more updating on the budget process in the next 30-45 days.

On the issue of Ground Water
First, I think it is noteworthy to mention that 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 wells tested during that period, 37 were unsafe due to being bacteria positive and/or having nitrates greater than 10 parts per million.  So that means, of those wells tested, 20% were found to be contaminated.  For comparison sake, the results from the  previous year revealed 29.7% of wells tested were unsafe.  Why are these results so much better for 2015 vs 2014?  I would like to attribute it to the fact that farmers are very aware of the issues and are being more careful then ever when they are applying liquid manure.  Certainly another consideration is that in the spring of 2015 we had fewer big rainfalls that tend to cause the runoffs.  Could it possibly be that it is a combination of both? 

One conclusion that I have come to over the past couple of years of studying this problem is that spreading liquid manure within hours of a rainfall exponentially increases the chances for both groundwater and surface water contamination.  I would implore farmers really look out at the weather and if there is imminent rain in the forecast, don’t spread. 

Reviewing cumulative well data from 2004 -2015, there were a total of 620 individual wells tested in the entire county, 180 of which were found to be contaminated.  Here are the results of those tests:
Safe wells, 440 / 71%
Safe Wells w/elevated nitrates (nitrates between 2.1 – 9.9 PPM) 87/ 14%
Unsafe Wells, Bacteria Positive 97 / 15.65%
Unsafe Wells E-Coli 20 / 3.23%
Unsafe wells only Nitrates >10PPM 39 / 6.3%
Unsafe Wells Bacteria Positive and Nitrates >10ppm 24 / 3.9%
Total Unsafe Wells for the period 2004 -2015 - 180 / 29.03%.

When it comes to groundwater, there is little doubt the Karst featured land is much more susceptible to having wells that are contaminated.  If you consider 110 (61%) of the 180 contaminated wells are in Lincoln (45), Red River (40) and Luxemburg (25) Townships, the balance of the county represents only 70 of the contaminated wells.  There are about 4,500 wells in the county.  The vast majority of these wells have never been tested.  It stands to reason, people who believe they might have a well problem are more likely to test their own wells.  What if more wells were tested in the non-karst areas and what would that data look like?  I don’t know, and I believe anyone else knows either.  My guess would be there would be a much smaller percentage of wells that would show contamination.  I have attached two PDFs that illustrate this data that has been correlated by our Soil Conservation office.  They are titled
Well Summary Results_2004-2014, and Well Summary Results_2004-2015.

I have taken issue with various people for distributing information that is incorrect.  For example, in my Jun 29th update I took issue with information put forward by two Gannett reporters who didn’t check out the data they were reporting and had them print a retraction.  Of course the retraction was two weeks later buried on page four.  That issue, you may recall, had to do with the representation that 30% of the wells in Kewaunee County were contaminated.  If that statement were true we would have about 1,350 wells in the county contaminated, when in fact it should be 29.7% of those wells tested, or 180 wells that were contaminated.

Well, I am once again disturbed over a certain DNR Kewaunee County Ag Nutrient Balance study that was recently distributed.  That study was completed by Brad Holtz of the DNRs Green Bay office and represented a comparison of nutrients produced by the current Kewaunee County cattle herd in relation to the tillable acreage where it is being applied.  Mr. Holtz originally put out a July 2014 DNR Nutrient Balance Sheet that represented 76,000 cattle in the county.  In that document his calculations showed that Kewaunee County had, with 130,228 acres of tilled land, surpassed the amount of NPK that the 130.2K acres of land could handle.  Of course, this was big news for those people opposed to large farms and they widely distributed that document.  I have attached that document as DNR Nutrient Balance Sheet HighlightedJuly 2014 Version.

Mr. Holtz later realized he had made an error in his calculations and in November of 2014 came out with another version of this study that showed that with 76,000 cattle in the county, we were at about one-half of the number of cattle that the 130.2K acres of tillable soil could sustain.  I have attached that document as; 2014 Kewaunee County AgriculturalNutrient Balance Summary _November 2014 Version. 

What is disturbing about this, is those folks who had received the first study also received the second study but chose not to distribute that data.  That kind of action can lead one to come up with only one conclusion, that being, if data produced by a governmental agency meets your cause, you run with it.  If it doesn’t fit the cause, you do not disseminate it.  Maybe both studies are incorrect, I don’t know.  What I do know is the continued dissemination of bad information about Kewaunee County is hurting this county’s chances of increasing any tourism and is having a deleterious impact on our real estate.

State Agencies Stepping Up
The County Land and Water Conservation, the Land & Water Committee and other Board members have been working closely with the DNR for the past year and a half to convince the DNR that all counties are not the same.  They got it!  Now they have singled out Kewaunee County for special attention and assistance.  I applaud them for recognizing that Kewaunee County with its large animal population combined with the Karst Featured lands have most probably contributed to a portion of the contaminated wells in the county. 

Russ Rasmussen, Deputy Administrator DNR – Division of Water, along with two senior staff members addressed our Kewaunee County Groundwater Taskforce Wednesday, the 5th of August.  Russ laid out a plan that will include all the players in the county in having the DNR assist the county with our water issues.  In addition, to laying out the plan, the DNR has earmarked $80,000 over the next two years (2016 / 2017) for Kewaunee to use in helping with our ground and surface water issues.  It will be up to our county to put together a plan as to how best to use that money.

There will be five sub-groups established within the DNR to focus on the water quality issues in Kewaunee County.  Those sub-groups are as follows:
1.            Short-term Solutions Group  will deal with what steps to take in treatment of an already contaminated well, what funding is available, how to provide clean water in the interim, what technology is available now for private wells including ultra filtration and reverse osmosis.
2.            Sensitive Area BMP Group (BMP- Best Management Practices), to deal with issues such as, what environmentally constitutes a BMP area, what other sciences enter into the picture that have impact on the overall results.
3.            Compliance Group will focus on interdepartmental communication compliance rules and the overall enforcement of existing rules and regulations.
4.            Communications Group to work with media and make recommendations to ensure information being disseminated is timely, correct and concise manner
5.            Alternative Technologies Group will monitor and evaluate the advancement of various manure processing technologies that are available and assist in providing that data to farmers.

We have our challenges, but you now have a board that is working hard to solve the issues of the county.  I urge you to communicate with your board representative so they are aware of the issues that are in the forefront of your mind.