Burnett County passed a one-year moratorium on large livestock farms yesterday, responding to citizen demands. The move follows a proposal announced in April to build a hog farm in the township of Trade Lake that could house 20,000 animals or more.
Before a packed room, the Board of Supervisors voted 16 to three, with two absent, to put the brakes on allowing such operations and take time to review and revise protections.
In the next 12 months, the county will study the issue and consider revisions to its ordinance regulating livestock farms, and consider a new ordinance to control zoning for such operations, deciding where is and is not appropriate.
There are no such Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) in northwest Wisconsin. Elsewhere, CAFO neighbors have complained of foul odors that can be smelled up to six miles away. They produce millions of gallons of manure each year, which is typically spread on nearby farm fields. This can cause serious water quality concerns, and its value as fertilizer is questionable.
Time to think
The Board of Supervisors stated the goal of its pause in permitting new large livestock facilities is “to protect public health or safety in Burnett County in light of the unique environment and the Burnett County Comprehensive Plan.”
It also gives the county time to determine if it has the resources it needs to enforce its regulations of such facilities.
Lastly, the board formed a special task force to “research, analyze and synthesize scientific literature regarding the impact of the large-scale livestock facilities on ground water, surface water and air quality.” It allocated $20,000 to retain experts and consultants. The committee’s findings are due to be reported to the Board of Supervisors by next June.
The “Large-Scale Livestock Study Committee” will consist of three elected officials, three Burnett County staff members, and two Burnett County residents and property owners. They will be recommended by the board chair and confirmed by a vote of the supervisors.
Just a start
CAFO opponents said they were grateful for the board’s action, and urged continued advocacy.
“I simply want to say thank you to the county,” says Deb Ryun, county resident and executive director of the St. Croix River Association. “This was a good move to slow down and learn more about these operations, which have been so harmful to people and the environment in other places, and protect our wonderful area.”
She added that while the moratorium is worth celebrating, it means the hard work is just beginning, as the county considers the threats and measures to protect itself.
It was a message echoed by Ramona Moody, of the citizen opposition group KnowCAFOs.
“We need to continue to be proactive and not become complacent,” Moody wrote to supporters.
It is unclear if the moratorium will apply to the Trade Lake proposal, which filed an incomplete application before the county took action.