More than two years after first announcing its plan for a large hog operation in Burnett County, Wis., Cumberland LLC has now submitted all the necessary paperwork for review by the Department of Natural Resources. The state will now begin to assess the application for a water permit, including possible impacts on the St. Croix River and its tributaries.
Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permits are “water quality protection permits designed to ensure proper storage and handling of manure from larger-scale livestock operations. The WPDES permit program does not have authority to address odor, noise, traffic or other issues not related to water quality.”
A key part of the application is the required Nutrient Management Plan. This document describes how much manure will be produced, how it will be stored, and how it will be spread on agricultural fields as fertilizer. The application also provides a general overview of the operation’s plans.
The proposal would house up to 26,350 hogs in three huge barns in the town of Trade Lake, south of Grantsburg. The facility would produce 9 million gallons of waste each year, which would be spread as fertilizer on agriculture fields that drain toward the Wood and Trade Rivers, which ultimately flow into the St. Croix.
The confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) would include three large barns. The location would be dedicated to breeding hogs, weaning, and raising the pigs to a certain age and size. They would then need to be sent to a “finishing facility,” where they would be raised to market weight. No other proposals have been submitted in the area yet, but could follow if Cumberland is approved.
Based on details in the new documents, Cumberland, owned by Jeff Sauer of Thorp, in eastern Wisconsin, would build the facility on 40 acres in the town of Trade Lake.
The 26,000 hogs on the site would be comprised of 14,625 pigs under 55 lbs, 4,125 pigs over 55 lbs, 7,500 sows, and 100 boars. The animals would produce, as previously reported, about 7 million gallons of manure, with another two million gallons of other liquid waste from other sources.
With a 91,300-square foot farrowing barn, 153,000-square foot gestation barn, and 32,800-square foot gilt development unit, the barns combined would be 1.5 times the size of a Walmart Supercenter store.
All the waste would be spread on about 1,800 acres of fields within a couple miles of the operation. Spreading would happen over six to eight days each month in May, July, October, and November. The fields would all be located within about four miles of the CAFO, hauled by trucks to various sites.
With 5,000 gallons of waste per acre each year, there is the potential for pollution of lakes, streams, and groundwater.
Hogs present environmental challenges unlike any other livestock. They produce more manure, and it’s rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, as well as antibiotics and other chemicals. Animals never go outside, but huge fans blow the gasses produced by their waste out of the buildings. CAFOs can be smelled up to six miles away. There is no regulation of their air emissions.
The company will dispose of the manure by spreading it across nearby farm fields. It will provide nutrients that could increase crop productivity. But, if the manure flows off the field, it can contaminate lakes and streams. If it soaks through the soil and to the aquifer before, it can contaminate wells and drinking water with the dangerous toxin nitrate.
Regulations can help prevent that from happening. In Wisconsin, the state legislature has controlled as much of the power as possible, passing laws that make it difficult for communities and counties to enact stronger rules.
Cumberland says that the manure could affect nine streams considered “Outstanding” or “Exceptional Resource Waters” by the state of Wisconsin: the St. Croix River, Benson Brook, Bear Brook, Brant Brook, East Brook, Ekdall Brook, Kettle Brook, Pine Brook, and East Brook.
The operation will follow existing regulations, Cumberland says, which means it won’t spread manure within 25 feet of a water body or conduit to a water body like a gully or grassy waterway. It won’t spread manure if the weather forecast for the next two days doesn’t predict a “25-year” rainstorm.
Cumberland notes in the application that opposition to the proposal could be high.
“People will be concerned about the odor and pollution potential of the project,” the application says.
There are no similar operations in the 7,700 square miles that drain into the St. Croix River yet. There are some big poultry operations, a 1,500-head dairy CAFO (with its own problems), and some large cattle feedlots. But there is nowhere else in the region that is home to so many swine.
Roads surrounding the site are lined with signs against the operation. The CAFO site is located in rolling farmland frequently pocked with marshes, ponds, lakes, and streams. There are numerous existing mid-sized independent farms, and people who live along the Trade River, Big Trade Lake, and other connected waters.
When the company made its intentions known in early 2019, local governments passed moratoriums on new proposals until they could conduct research and possibly change regulations. By state law, any such restrictions would have to be backed up by objective evidence. Burnett and Polk Counties, and the towns of Trade Lake, Eureka, and Laketown all tackled the issue.
In the next several weeks, St. Croix 360 will provide more details and analysis of the proposal, the state of local regulations, and the people working to protect air and water in the area.
Local community opposition is organized by KnowCAFOs, with information, resources, and a mailing list sign-up. The St. Croix River Association is also involved. The Environmental Working Group is a national organization with significant experience fighting factory farms.
St. Croix 360 will continue to prioritize coverage of this and any other CAFO proposals in the watershed. It is a serious issue facing the St. Croix River, its tributaries, and the people who live here. Receive updates when you sign up for our email newsletter.