Environmentalists renewed their call Tuesday for Kewaunee County Board Supervisor John Pagel to be removed a chairman of the Land and Water Conservation Committee, in light of the Dairy Business Association’s lawsuit against the state Department of Natural Resources.
The DBA has asked that a Brown County judge declare that the DNR has exceeded its authority to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Pagel is the owner of the Pagel’s Ponderosa dairy farm, among the largest of Kewaunee County’s CAFOs, and a former DBA board member.
A half-dozen members of the public spoke during the comment period of Tuesday’s Land and Water meeting, most of them critical of Pagel and the DBA.
Nancy Utesch of the town of Lincoln said the DBA suit aims to diminish public protection in light of two years of cooperative progress toward dealing with the problem of surface and ground water contamination in the county.
“It’s a sham, it’s ridiculous that one of the largest agricultural operators is leading this discussion here,” Utesch said.
Doree Stein from the town of Pierce said the lawsuit “decimates the sense of trust and moving forward” after citizens from all walks of life participated in DNR workgroup discussions to deal with water quality issues.
“People have put their heart and their soul into trying to come to the table and work together, and it’s very very hard when the deck here is already stacked,” Stein said. “It’s just a slap in everyone’s face.”
Because of County Board policy, Pagel was prohibited from responding during the public comment period, but during later committee discussion he said he has not been a member of the DBA board for several years and the lawsuit was a board action.
Addressing one of the issues in the lawsuit, Pagel said the DNR for years allowed farmers to install vegetative treatment areas to address problems with rain creating leachate from feed areas, but then switched gears without notice and ruled they were illegal.
“Farmers have spent thousands of dollars putting them in and maintaining them and so forth, and now they’re saying they’re illegal, without having a solution to do anything about it, so their solution is saying you have to pump all that water into the (manure) pit,” Pagel said. “You want to make sure you have enough storage for your manure, and suddenly you’re pumping all this rainwater into the pit along with the leachate.”
“If that were the only issue that was being addressed, I think this would be almost a non-issue,” Supervisor Lee Luft said. “But when you try to overturn the fact that there’s even a WPDES (Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit for CAFOs, it’s just gone beyond anything I could even imagine that the DBA would do.”
Luft urged Pagel to use his influence with the association, “go to them and say, ‘What on Earth are you doing?’”
Pagel said he would invite the DBA to a future committee meeting for a question-and-answer session.
Former County Board Chairman Ron Heuer first appointed Pagel as the committee chairman in 2014, and current Chairman Robert Weidner reappointed him in 2016. Pagel has said that as a member of the agricultural community, he’s in a better position to communicate with other farmers about regulations the county needs to implement.