A majority of the 22 speakers at a public hearing Tuesday pleaded with the state Department of Natural Resources not to allow further expansion of dairy herds in Kewaunee County as it prepares to certify Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permits for five concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Between 150 and 200 people attended a combined public hearing for the five permit applications, which was held at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds in Luxemburg.

Dairy Dreams LLC, Kinnard Farms LLC, Seidl’s Mountain View Dairy, and Wakker Dairy Farm Inc. are seeking renewals of their WPDES permits. Sandway Farms LLC recently passed the minimum threshold for being designated as a CAFO – the equivalent of 1,000 animal units or more – and is applying for a permit for the first time.

The DNR has made a preliminary determination that all five permits should be granted.

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RELATED: DNR to process five CAFO wastewater permits at once

“Studies have shown that the waste from these concentrated animal feeding operations has been and will continue to be a major contributor to the threat to our surface and ground waters, said Paul Leline, a board member with the Door County Environmental Council. “It’s our water – all of us – and it’s being taken from us in an unprecedented amount of millions and millions of gallons every day simply to wash away animal unit wastes.”

Leline said the approximately 4,500 additional animal units that would be allowed by the new permits would produce waste “equivalent to allowing 90,000 human immigrants to move into our area.”

Ahnapee town chairman Gary Paape said he is not as concerned about the permits themselves as he is about the expansion that would be allowed.

“Our town roads, county roads, the land, the water supply, can’t sustain more volume until we have a solution we can work within,” Paape said. “We all know we need the farmers, but we have to be able to work together.”

“It seems to me to be the height of irresponsibility to add this much new, untreated waste to these most vulnerable areas,” Supervisor Lee Luft said, referring to recent scientific confirmation that spreading liquid manure over thin soil with fragile karst underpinnings leads to groundwater contamination. “We now know without question that a significant water contamination problem exists and that a good deal of this contamination is due to bovine bacteria and viruses.”

Luft said copies of the hearing testimony should be delivered to top DNR officials and the Natural Resources Board so that they cannot claim they were uninformed of the contamination when they allowed the permits to be approved on their watch.

Keith Bancroft of the town of Montpelier said the county is already “overstocked” with cattle.

“Our rivers are impaired, and our waters are contaminated,” Bancroft said. “Permitting more liquid manure in this county when we have known for years that the landscape cannot adequately protect our waters from the liquid manure is insane.”

Joe Mills of Kewaunee described himself as “somewhat of an enigma” because in college he majored in environmental policy and minored in economics, so he’s a tree hugger who believes in free enterprise.

“My point today is very simple,” he said. “I believe we should allow the renewal of our WPDES permits because I don’t want my butter and cheese taken away from me. I also strongly, strongly believe we should deny any CAFO expansion … I need my water more than I need my butter and my cheese.”

Mills called for a moratorium on CAFO expansion unless and until the water contamination can be reversed.

Christine Seidl said the big crowd wouldn’t have come to the hearing if the DNR was being true to its mission of environmental protection.

“The truth is however that the DNR is failing at their mission miserably,” she said. “Thirty-three percent of Kewaunee County wells are contaminated and many of our waters are impaired. Permits that allow for growth or an increase in animal heads which allow for an increase in waste are downright irresponsible in a county suffering from the ill effects of current allowances. Current rules are being ignored, common sense is being ignored … when is enough enough?”

Several local farmers and agribusiness owners spoke in favor of the permits and said the operations have taken steps to protect water quality.

Supervisor John Pagel, who owns the largest dairy operation in the county, said all sides need to collaborate.

“It’s important for everyone to understand how hard the dairy producers have been working with the Soil and Water Department, the DNR, EPA, NRCS, and Peninsula Pride to improve water quality in Kewaunee County,” Pagel said. “There are situations that still need improvement, there’s no doubt about it, we all understand it, we’re all working on it, but to our residents of our county we encourage conversations to work together to improve water quality.”

As the hearing began to wrap up, Nancy and Lynn Utesch – small dairy farmers and organizers of the Kewaunee CARES group – objected to the DNR’s decision to combine five permit applications in a single public hearing.

Noting the five-minute limit on comments, Nancy Utesch said by rights individuals should be allowed to speak for five minutes on each of the five applications, and attempted to hold the floor until hearing administrator Jane Landretti told her to stop.

Landretti noted that citizens have the right to submit written comments through next Tuesday, Dec. 5.

“Written comments are given the same weight as oral comments,” Landretti said.

Lynn Utesch also said the format did not allow sufficient time for a full public hearing of concerns. He said that Dairy Dreams, Wakker, Seidl’s and Kinnard all exceeded the number of animal units they were allowed under their previous five-year permits.

“At what point in time will the DNR take Kewaunee County seriously?” Utesch said. “At what point in time will our human health crisis be addressed by Wisconsin DNR?”

Citizens have until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to send written comments about the five permits to Casey Jones, Oshkosh Service Center, 625 E. County Road Y, Oshkosh, WI 54901, or Casey.Jones@wi.gov.