A Luxemburg area dairy and concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) has agreed to pay up to $50,000 in penalties for spills that occurred while spreading manure on farm fields in December 2014 and November 2015.
Stahl Brothers Dairy LLC, N7518 Tonet Road (pictured above), agreed to the settlement in a stipulation and order that was signed and filed in Kewaunee County Circuit Court last month but went unreported until Tuesday, when the order and related court documents were released by an environmental activist group, the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP).
According to a civil complaint dated June 12 by Attorney General Brad Schimel on behalf of the Department of Natural Resources, Stahl Brothers Dairy received conditional DNR approval in November 2014 to apply up to 7,000 gallons of manure and wastewater per acre to frozen ground.
Thomas Stahl reported a manure spill to the DNR on Dec. 12 at the dairy’s Field 13. He told agency staff that “while the farm’s manure applicator was land-applying manure, the hose began to leak and discharged approximately 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of manure,” according to the complaint.
When the DNR conducted an inspection three days later, Stahl speculated that manure was applied at a rate of approximately 10,000 gallons per acre, the complaint said. “DNR staff observed odorous, brown and murky water flowing north into a small stream that transects … Field 13.”
Also on Dec. 15, Stahl Brothers Dairy applied manure to four fields, identified in the complaint as Field 38/39, Field 40, Field 35 and Field 53.
A “rain event” occurred on Dec. 16 and 17, and on Dec. 22, the DNR received a complaint that manure runoff was seen in a wetland in the northeast corner of County Road A and Town Hall Road in the town of Red River. DNR staff observed manure and snowmelt running into wooded grasslands northeast of Field 54, outside of the authorized application site, the complaint said.
Meanwhile, the residential well for a neighbor across the street from Fields 38, 39 and 40 was tested on Dec. 15, and a week later Kewaunee County filed a complaint with the DNR detailing the results. Further DNR samples were collected and sent to state State Lab of Hygience, which reported bovine waste contamination as well as some human bacteria.
The neighbor told the DNR on Dec. 30 that the well water still had an odor and had a milky yellow color.
“Based on water table survey data, a sinkhole and karst land features in the area, rainfall, temperature and related data,” the DNR believed drainage from the Stahl fields had the potential to have impacted the well, the complaint said.
Eleven months later on Nov. 4, 2015, the Kewaunee County Land Conservation Department notified DNR about manure ponding and improper land application practices on three fields owned by Stahl Brothers Dairy.
The next day DNR inspectors saw liquid manure in two small streams running through the fields, the complaint said.
The complaint claims that Stahl Brothers failed to comply with the approved manure application rates, failed to prevent manure and process wastewater from ponding on application sites, failed to prevent runoff from the sites, failed to comply with setback restrictions, failed to prevent contamination of state waters, and may have contributed to contamination in the neighbor’s well, all violations of the farm’s Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit.
The penalties were to be paid to the DNR in installments, beginning with $5,000 by June 30 and $5,000 by Sept. 30. Online court records indicate those payments have already been made. Additional $5,000 payments are due quarterly at the end of December, March and June, and a final $25,000 payment is due June 30, 2022.
The stipulation and order approved by Kewaunee County Judge Keith Mehn also requires Stahl Brothers to implement a supplemental environmental project (SEP) at an estimated total financial commitment of $50,000 over the next five years. The project includes filter strips covering a total of more than 9 acres; planting seasonal cover crops every year on at least 100 acres of soil sensitive to erosion; and meetings every spring and fall between the farm’s nutrient management planner and its contract manure and waste hauler/applicator to review the nutrient management plan.
Stahl Brothers Dairy is given the right to implement a second five-year SEP from 2022 to 2027 in lieu of making the final $25,000 forfeiture, with $5,000 penalties for any year that the farm fails to comply with the SEP’s requirements.
Mehn signed the order on June 14. SRAP went to the attorney general’s office July 6 with an open records request for the complaint, judgment and stipulation, and the office provided copies from the county court six days later.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg for industrial dairy violations that deserve penalties and sanction from the State of Wisconsin,” Scott Dye, regional representative for SRAP, said in the press release accompanying the documents mailed to area and state media.
Since April 2014, half of Kewaunee County’s 15 industrial dairies and one large beef feedlot have been cited for violations 15 times by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), the press release said. The violations include 10 citations for improper manure application, two for waste discharges from animal production areas, and three for violations of required reporting or approvals.