A new ordinance in western Wisconsin’s Polk County that would have cleared the way for new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) stalled out in a committee meeting yesterday. Advocates called it a win for local communities and clean water.
The Environmental Services Committee was expected to vote on the proposal following a public hearing yesterday, but took no action after a deluge of public comments and discussion among committee members.
CAFOs are also called factory farms. They have little in common with the region’s traditional agriculture, usually owned by people or companies with scant connection to the land or neighbors. The massive operations — one proposal in nearby Burnett County would be home to as many as 26,000 hogs — can cause serious water and air pollution.
The proposed ordinance was criticized for containing no protections for residents of unzoned townships, for allowing an “infinite” number of hogs to be housed 200 feet from neighbors, and more.
Other issues included a low permit fee, which opponents said would burden the county with costly application reviews that are not paid for by the applicant, and no requirement for a “damage deposit” that would cover clean-up if the owners walk away from a CAFO.
“Up front we’re not protecting taxpayers and on the back end we’re not protecting taxpayers, and in the middle we’re not protecting clean water,” said commissioner Amy Middleton.
The county still has a moratorium on new CAFO applications in place, intended to give it time to learn about the threats and how to protect the region, and pass such ordinances. It is unclear at this time what the next actions by the county will be.
Many citizens in the county are pushing for an ordinance similar to Bayfield County’s, which is located on the edge of Lake Superior and has so far protected sensitive waterways and drinking water sources.
Commissioner Middleton also told the committee that she had recently spoken to a Bayfield County commissioner about the subject.