DNR holds public hearing on Cranberry Creek nutrient management plan

By LeAnn R. Ralph

ROCK FALLS  —  In an area that is already susceptible to nitrate contamination of the groundwater in southern Dunn County, Cranberry Creek Dairy is proposing to expand the size of the dairy herd.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing at the Rock Creek Town Hall March 28 on the proposed modification to the Cranberry Creek nutrient management plan to add 57 fields and 1,414 acres.

The additional fields would bring the total number of acres available for Cranberry Creek to dispose of manure to 5,619 acres.

About 150 people attended the public hearing March 28.

The DNR held a public hearing on the re-issuance of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit last September for the Cranberry Creek expansion. 

The March 28 hearing was on the expansion of the nutrient management plan needed for the new WPDES permit. 

The expansion would allow Cranberry Creek Dairy to increase from 2,107 animal units up to 7,250 animal units. A dairy cow is 1.4 animal units, and with the expansion, Cranberry Creek could have up to 5,000 milk cows, 500 heifers and 1,250 calves. 

Cranberry Creek currently has 1,250 dairy cows, 450 heifers and 250 calves. 

Inadequate

Based on the comments received at the earlier public hearing, DNR personnel determined the nutrient management plan was not adequate.

Cranberry Creek was required to submit additional information, such as written land owner permission documentation, to show there was an adequate land base for the nutrient management plan, said Leah Nicol of the DNR.

More than 20 people testified at the DNR hearing on the expansion of Cranberry Creek Dairy’s nutrient management plan.

None of those who testified were in favor.

John Koehler, who said he was submitting a statement on behalf of Randy Koehler, a small dairy farmer in the area, testified that the nutrient management plan contains “deceptive information.” 

Some of the agreements in the plan were signed by people renting the land but not by the landowners, he said.

Harry Warden, chair of the Rock Creek Town Board, said that in September of 2016, the Rock Creek Town Board had adopted a resolution in opposition to the expansion of Cranberry Creek Farm. 

The town board is still opposed without “at the very least adequate monitoring,” he said.

The Town of Rock Creek is unzoned. 

Concern about the expansion of Cranberry Creek Dairy was one of the factors for Dunn County placing a six-month moratorium on forming or expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that would have 1,000 animal units or more and forming the Livestock Operations Study Group. 

The focus of LOSG is to evaluate the impacts of CAFOs on the health, safety and welfare of Dunn County’s residents in relation to groundwater, surface water, air quality, the economy, transportation and other resources, to make recommendations and to report on the group’s findings.

A report is expected to be presented to the Dunn County Board in May. 

Feasibility

Cranberry Creek flows to the Chippewa River, “and I am concerned there will be over-saturation and contamination of the land, the river, the creek and the drinking water,” said Charles Harschlip, who lives in the area.

Two CAFOs are located in Pepin County and are already spreading manure in the Rock Creek area. Cranberry Creek Dairy is only a mile and a half from the county line, he said. 

“It’s just not feasible,” Harschlip said.

According to a map provided by the Dunn County Health Department, the northern part of the Town of Rock Creek, the southern part of the Town of Spring Brook directly to the north of Rock Creek, and most of the Town of Peru to the west are susceptible to groundwater contamination. 

Nitrate levels in private wells measured from 1996 to 2006 in parts of the Town of Rock Creek, Spring Brook and Peru measured from 10 milligrams per liter to 43.6 mg/L.

The Wisconsin nitrate standard is less than 10 mg/L.

Too much milk

“We don’t need more milk. America is already drowning in a sea of milk,” said David Stanton, referring to an over-abundance of milk in the market.

The situation has already reached the point of no return for family farms, he said. 

“Take a look around. Do you really think America needs more butter?” Stanton asked.

Members of the audience chuckled.

One woman leaned over and whispered to the woman sitting beside her, “He means we’re all too fat.”

“I don’t know who’s going to be working on this expansion project. From the sound of things coming out of Washington, current employees can get out of town or they’ll be hauled out of town. Who will do the work?” Stanton said.

Land available

Rachel Kummer said she had reviewed the 590 amended nutrient management plan for Cranberry Creek Dairy, and it is still missing landowner agreements or rental contracts, and information is missing that matches fields to agreements.

Some fields in the 590 plan are not on the map, and some of the fields on the map are not in the plan, she said.

Agreements for some fields are signed by someone other than the landowner, and in some instances, the person signing the agreement is a tenant and not a landowner, she said.

Kummer noted that the agreements state they are supposed to be signed by landowners.

The nutrient management plan also contains contracts for fields that were removed from the plan, Kummer said. 

Some people testified last fall that Cranberry Creek Dairy would “never” have access to some of the land included in the nutrient management plan, she said.

Those fields have been removed from the 590 nutrient management plan, but they are still included on the maps, Kummer said. 

“Without a complete plan, there is no way for us to verify all the manure has been fully accounted for in the appropriate places,” she said.

Because of the inaccuracies in the maps and the nutrient management plan, the application is not complete, Kummer said.

Kummer indicated she would be submitting a written statement to the DNR detailing the problems she has identified.

NOT FOR SALE — A row of signs were propped up at the Rock Creek Town Hall March 28 during a public hearing held by the state Department of Natural Resources on a proposed expansion to the nutrient management plan for Cranberry Creek Dairy. About 150 people attended the public hearing. One sign said, “My water is not for sale.” —photo by LeAnn R. Ralph

Emerald Dairy

Kim Dupre, from the Town of Emerald in St. Croix County, noted that when Emerald Dairy (now known as Emerald Sky Dairy) received a permit from the DNR 15 years ago, the permit stated any impacts to the water should be minimal under normal operating conditions.

When the Emerald Town Hall was built in 2007, a water test revealed a nitrate level of 6.9 parts-per-million. A water test in January of this year showed the nitrate level at 26.8 ppm. Another water test in February showed a nitrate level of 19.1 ppm, Dupre said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the maximum contaminant level for nitrate in drinking water at 10 ppm.

The Emerald Town Hall is located across the road from Emerald Sky Dairy.

Emerald Sky Dairy’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.

A proposed expansion at Emerald Sky Dairy would allow up to 6,289 dairy cows.

Dupre said she had discovered that the Forest Town Hall, located north of the Town of Emerald, has a well contaminated with e-coli bacteria. The Stanton Town Hall in St. Croix County also has a well contaminated with nitrate, she said.

And neighbors who live within a mile of Dupre now have high nitrates in their well water, she said. 

“In my opinion, before we expand any of these large dairies, we need to re-evaluate our practices. What is being done is not working,” Dupre said.

“I love the cream in my coffee in the morning, but I need clean drinking water to make that coffee,” she said.

Scope and scale

Tom Quinn of Downing is a supervisor on the Dunn County Board, chair of the Dunn County Planning, Resources & Development Committee and executive director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

Quinn said a request made to Cranberry Creek Dairy for a complete application was responded to by Grassland Dairy Products.

Several people testifying at the public hearing said Grassland Dairy Products was planning to buy Cranberry Creek Dairy. 

“In particular, we would be concerned about the scope of spreading, the distances that are required, the effects on roads, the spills, and probably also, since it is so much manure, the long-term security of the contracts,” Quinn said.

Another gentleman who testified at the hearing said Cranberry Creek Dairy would be hauling manure up to 20 miles.

Quinn said Dunn County also was concerned about the groundwater. 

“We are very concerned about health impacts on groundwater,” he said.

Another concern would be simply the scale of the operation. The LOSG includes several CAFO operators and other farmers, Quinn said.

Dunn County can manage modest expansion, “but this farm goes beyond that. It is the scale that is a concern,” he said.

“We understand the DNR has limitations, but the statutes also provide a lot of flexibility to go above and beyond the minimum standards,” Quinn said. 

Fear

Jeff Smith, who lives in the Town of Brunswick just a few miles from Rock Creek and was representing the Citizen Action Committee, said the people who attended the public hearing were there because “they are afraid.”

DNR personnel are not expected to represent only the five people who are involved with the farm and are interested in making a profit but also must represent the other 140 people who attended the hearing and who are concerned about their families and the environment, Smith said. 

“You have a dual responsibility,” he said. 

Smith said a petition had been submitted to the DNR asking for an Environmental Impact Statement and said small business loans made to Cranberry Creek Dairy through the federal government also meant that an environmental impact statement is required.

The DNR planned to accept written comments on the modification to the Cranberry Creek Dairy nutrient management plan until April 4.