By LeAnn R. Ralph and Samuel Ripp
TOWN OF EMERALD — The Emerald Town Board has approved hiring an attorney, if necessary, to write a resolution asking for an environmental impact statement concerning the proposed expansion at Emerald Sky Dairy.
The proposed expansion would allow up to 6,289 dairy cows.
About 30 people attended the Emerald Town Board meeting June 8 to express concern about the groundwater.
Emerald Sky Dairy, formerly known as Emerald Dairy and formerly owned by John Vrieze, has been sold to an individual who reportedly owns large dairies in Nebraska and in Rock County near Janesville.
The new owner of Emerald Sky Dairy is requesting a conditional use permit to increase the number of animal units to 8,804.
A dairy cow represents 1.4 animal units, so the proposed expansion would translate into 6,289 cows.
Before Emerald Sky Dairy could expand, the facility would need a conditional use permit from St. Croix County.
According to Ellen Denzer of the St. Croix County Community Development Department, the facility’s current conditional use permit allows up to 3,400 dairy cows, or 4,760 animal units, and the existing operation has 2,460 animal units, or 1,757 dairy cows.
The application for Emerald Sky Dairy submitted to St. Croix County for a conditional use permit was incomplete and has been returned to the applicant for additional information.
Before a decision could be made on the conditional use permit, the St. Croix County Zoning Board of Adjustment would have to hold a public hearing, and notices would have to be published in the newspaper prior to the public hearing.
“There are some things we can do to ensure we maintain quality water, clean water, because that is the thing that matters to all of us, no matter what our age,” said Kim Dupre, a resident on County Road G.
“They said at the water quality meeting (at the Emerald Town Hall a few weeks earlier), that people who are very young or very old or who have gone through chemo are very susceptible (to contaminated water),” she said.
A recent opinion by the state Attorney General says that the state Department of Natural Resources cannot take into consideration the impact on groundwater or surface water, such as rivers and lakes, when issuing permits for high capacity wells, Dupre said.
A June 3 legislative audit report on the DNR referenced wastewater permitting and enforcement. In Kewaunee County, south of Door County and east of Green Bay, there are 16 large dairies. A random sample of 320 wells revealed that 34 percent of those wells were contaminated with bacteria or unsafe levels of nitrate. The DNR failed to issue citations in 94 percent of those cases, Dupre said.
At the water quality meeting at the Emerald Town Hall, attendees learned that the bedrock in Emerald is “karst,” meaning it is like Swiss cheese under the topsoil with nooks and crannies and underground streams. Kewaunee County also has karst bedrock, Dupre said.
Karst bedrock is made up of soluble rock, such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum.
According to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency, a 1,000 animal unit dairy produces as much sewage as a city of 164,000 people, Dupre said.
The new proposal for 8,800 dairy animal units is equal to a city of 1.4 million people for producing waste, she said.
A population of 1.4 million is equivalent to the populations of Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul combined.
The legislative audit report noted that the large dairies are self-regulated and self-monitored. The large dairies do not have someone monitoring the wastewater treatment system, like the municipalities do, such as New Richmond or Baldwin, Dupre said.
One gentleman in the audience wondered who would fix the residential water wells if there were bacterial contamination of the groundwater from the expansion of Emerald Sky Dairy.
“It’s not practical in this kind of soil. They will endanger all of our drinking water for who knows how long. It’s just not right,” he said.
Another gentleman in the audience noted that if the groundwater were contaminated with bacteria from the expansion at Emerald Sky Dairy, the value of everyone’s property would decrease.
“I’m wondering what the value of clean drinking water is. If we don’t have clean wells, our houses are worthless,” he said.
Judy Achterhof, a supervisor on the St. Croix County Board who represents Emerald, urged the people attending the meeting to contact the county with their concerns and to write letters to the editor for publication in the Hudson newspaper.
“Once they make the decision there’s not much that can be done. If they hear from people, they will know there are concerns. They will be aware of it,” she said.
“You should get going early. It doesn’t do any good if the Board of Adjustment is past or if the county board has not heard from anybody out here. They need to know that people are concerned now,” Achterhof said.
Several people asked the Emerald Town Board to pass a resolution calling for an environmental impact statement regarding the proposed expansion at Emerald Sky Dairy.
As an example, Dupre read a resolution passed by the Bayfield City Council expressing concern about a proposed hog farm in Bayfield County that would have 26,000 animals.
Town board members and the town clerk said they believed the resolution should be written by an attorney.
Achterhof offered to call St. Croix County’s corporation counsel for an opinion on whether the resolution needed to be written by an attorney.
The Emerald Town Board unanimously approved a motion to hire an attorney to write the resolution asking for an environmental impact statement concerning the proposed expansion at Emerald Sky Dairy if the county’s corporation counsel recommended that an attorney write the resolution.
If it is determined that an attorney is not necessary, Dupre was asked if she would be willing to work on writing the resolution, and several people at the meeting said they would be willing to help.
The Emerald Town Board is expected to consider approval of a resolution asking for an environmental impact statement at the next meeting July 13.
The St. Croix County Zoning Board of Adjustment takes into consideration recommendations by town boards for conditional use permits, although the BOA is not legally bound to abide by the recommendations made by a town board.
Several people wondered if the Emerald clerk would be willing to send out notices to town residents when the application for expansion at Emerald Sky Dairy has been submitted to the county and accepted as complete.
Barb Prinsen, town clerk, said she would send notifications to town residents within two or three days of the town being notified of a completed application.
The St. Croix County Zoning Board of Adjustment meets the fourth Thursday of the month.