Polk County committee tables unpopular factory farm ordinance

Public comments critical of proposed rules sends officials back to the drawing board.




2 minute read

Hog CAFO in North Carolina. (Photo by Emily Sutton, Waterkeeper Alliance, via Flickr)

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.


7 responses to “Polk County committee tables unpopular factory farm ordinance”

  1. Carol Lehman Avatar
    Carol Lehman


  2. Kathy Grubbs Avatar
    Kathy Grubbs

    Stay away from our underground water tables as well. There is no amount of septic system that can handle these facilities and guarantee that the water tables we share and drink from in Polk County will remain pure. Then there is the nauseating smell of “factory farms.” Our property values would drop enough for us to become “upside down “ on our mortgages. Pollution and stench are not worth any tax revenues the county might receive. Besides, big business usually gets huge tax breaks. Then they back out on their commitment to the community ( think Walmart) Once major pollution occurs, it may take generations to clean it up, and damage to the residents of Polk County could be catastrophic. ( See 3M in Ramsey County, MN) Environmental concerns are everyone’s new responsibility. Thank you to our Polk County leadership for putting on the brakes.

  3. Kimberly Chisholm Avatar
    Kimberly Chisholm

    Thank you to the commissioners who allowed this ordinance to die in committee.

  4. Rebecca J Rowe Avatar
    Rebecca J Rowe

    Polk County gains huge revenue from tourism, both in people visiting and buying lakehomes which are taxed fairly high. A hog CAFO would put a big stop to that revenue..the smell, the water pollution, etc. Hopefully the board will represent and protect the local farmers over a big business, non local owners pig farm.

  5. Maria Avatar

    It’s nice to see a community work together to stop the building of a factory farm.
    CAFOs have the potential to environmentally poison the air, water, land, and surrounding people.near its proposed location. It’s also inhumane for the animals.
    Good Luck, Yes you can stop this decades push into Wisconsin!

  6. Collette Earley Avatar
    Collette Earley

    A sincere thank you to the Commissioners that had the integrity and sense to put a halt on this! They are protecting our county and fulfilling their promise to look out for the taxpayers. These so called farms have no accountability or vested interest in the communities they operate in! They count on being able to operate with little oversight. They are a disaster to the environment, poison water sources, destroy habitats, pay low wages, provide subpar nutrition and inhumane treatment to their animals. They are of no benefit to our county! The only ones that benefit are the share holders of a large corporation. The tax revenue is a joke. Take a look at the wonderful recreation trails, lakes, restaurants, local farms, farmers markets, wineries and breweries, new businesses and tourism that are being built up in Polk County. We are trying to BUILD and SUSTAIN a healthy and viable community! Shouldn’t Commissioners Nelson and Olson be putting effort into finding ways to support local farmers and businesses instead of trying to sneak in a Toxic Factory Farm? It’s a slap in the face to our hardworking, tax paying, local family farmers and businesses. Polk county has enough issues with family farms going bankrupt, substance abuse, mental health and our emergency services having to operate on a shoe string budget without giving this proposal a disastrous green flag!

  7. A concerned resident Avatar
    A concerned resident

    Thank goodness for the commissioners who held firm to protect the people of Polk County and our natural resources. Those commercial farms should be illegal. They are abusive to the animals and to our natural resources.


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Polk County committee tables unpopular factory farm ordinance