Dairy production facility fined for polluting St. Croix River tributary

State lawyers announce settlement for 2019 incident that contaminated trout stream in Willow River watershed.




3 minute read

Hutton Creek polluted by Emerald Sky Dairy (Wisconsin DNR)

A confined animal feeding operation that produces milk from about 1,5000 cows recently reached a settlement with the state of Wisconsin for a 2019 pollution incident. The Oklahoma-based company will pay $65,000 to settle the case.

In November 2019, workers at the confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) spread manure on a nearby farm field, despite a steep slope, semi-frozen conditions, and rain in the forecast. The manure flowed off the field, down a ditch, and into Hutton Creek, a trout stream and tributary of the Willow River.

The problem was not reported until a passerby noticed. Authorities who responded found fouled water and dead fish.

Barns at Emerald Sky Dairy (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

The state says Emerald Sky Dairy violated four parts of its permit and Wisconsin law by causing the contamination. The settlement gives the company more than two years to pay the fines and other fees.

“Polluting our water negatively impacts water quality and wildlife,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul. “CAFOs must ensure that manure runoff doesn’t unlawfully end up in Wisconsin waterways.”

The violations were part of a series of problems at Emerald Sky Dairy since it was purchased in 2014. Manure has filled a wetland at the site, and extremely high levels of nitrate, a harmful chemical produced by manure, have been detected in a nearby well.

After the November 2019 incident, a committee of the St. Croix County board of supervisors sent a letter to the Wisconsin DNR and state officials urging “full and quick enforcement” of such manure incidents.

“I would like to see a more vigorous enforcement of the rules that are in place,” said supervisor and then-committee chair Daniel Hansen, in 2020. “Some people call for more rules, some people call for different rules, I think that the rules we have are pretty good and that we just need to see them enforced.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Emerald Sky must pay $17,000 within three months, another $17,000 within 15 months, and the final $22,000 within 27 months. The settlement also includes other payments for court costs and attorney fees. It also includes a clause that the agreement should not “be construed as an admission of liability.”

The St. Croix County committee members in 2020 said previous penalties for Emerald Sky had been too small, gave them too long to pay, and, most importantly, did not seem to be doing the trick of preventing future problems. Judy Achterhof, a committee member and county supervisor who represented the area at the time, urged action and awareness. Achterhof is no longer on the board.

“It’s not saying that farming is bad in St. Croix County, it’s saying that there’s one particular one that has more problems than anybody else. And nothing seems to be getting done about it, and the more people that know about it, maybe something will be done.”

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Dairy production facility fined for polluting St. Croix River tributary