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The company seeking to build a controversial large-scale dairy farm in Saratoga was cleared of violating environmental regulations after it spread manure near homes and a prized trout stream, the state said.

Residents and an environmental attorney had filed a complaint with the state Department of Natural Resources questioning whether Central Sands Dairy broke DNR rules when it applied manure on two fields last month in the town of Grant near the border of Portage and Wood counties.

'We are highly concerned that applications on these fields have occurred above permissible rates, and that liquid manure applications were unauthorized to begin with,' wrote Madison lawyer Christa Westerberg in a letter to the DNR in May on behalf of people who live near the fields.

Westerberg drew attention to truckloads of manure that had been applied to the fields — totaling more than 200 acres — that recently became part of the nutrient management plan for Central Sands Dairy, a 3,800-cow farm in Juneau County.

Central Sands Dairy is owned by the Wysocki Family of Companies, which is seeking to build a new farm in Saratoga; it would house 4,000 milking cows, 300 heifers and 1,000 calves and would generate approximately 55 million gallons of liquid manure each year, DNR records show. That meets the legal classification of a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.

Application approved

In May, the DNR approved an application from Central Sands Dairy to use the fields at issue for spreading manure. That application had analysis for only solid manure, according to Westerberg, but people who live near the fields have observed liquid manure being spread in large quantities, she said.

Central Sands Dairy applied the manure 'in massive amounts, unprecedented for the experienced citizens who have witnessed these and other operations,' Westerberg wrote.

Westerberg's complaint also raised questions about liquid manure that was applied during rainy conditions. State rules prohibit applying manure on the surface of fields when soil is saturated or when rain capable of producing runoff is forecast within 24 hours. During a two-day period in late May when manure was applied on the fields, forecasters had issued a hazardous weather outlook and identified a 60 to 80 percent chance of rain and storms, according to Westerberg; the DNR also had advised against applying manure.

While Central Sands at times appeared to incorporate manure into the soil, it was not clear whether those efforts were legally sufficient, Westerberg said. For manure to be considered incorporated, 80 percent of it must be covered by soil and it must not run off, among other requirements. Whether manure was incorporated matters because the rain restrictions apply only to surface application of manure, not when it has been incorporated into soil.

Westerberg included numerous photographs in her complaint, including images of liquid ponding in fields; DNR rules ban ponding of manure.

DNR: No violations

After investigating Westerberg's complaint, the DNR found that Central Sands Dairy did not violate any manure application rules, agency spokesman James Dick said Friday.

Farmers can apply solid or liquid manure 'as long as the nutrient values are consistent with the limitations set forth' in nutrient management plans, Dick said.

Jim Wysocki, co-owner of the Wysocki Family of Companies, said the company followed the law in how it applied manure on the fields. The only restriction the DNR had imposed was against manure spray irrigation, and that was followed, Wysocki said. He declined to address the rain concerns but said he had faith in the DNR's review process of the complaint.

'I believe they are experts,' Wysocki said of the DNR.

But Westerberg said she would like to know more about the extent of the DNR's investigation. She said an agency official had told her as late as Thursday that its inquiry was still ongoing.

'If DNR did do a thorough investigation and interprets its rules to allow this kind of activity, I'd find that alarming and bad precedent for the Central Sands,' Westerberg said.

Neighbor concerned

Saratoga resident Criste Greening has long been familiar with Wysocki's farming operations as a member of the citizen's group Protect Wood County And Its Neighbors, which opposes the proposed Saratoga CAFO.

But for Greening, Wysocki's use of the two fields at issue has hit especially close to home: She lives less than a mile from the fields.

Those fields weren't cropland a year ago, but rather were forested much like the rest of Saratoga, according to Greening; trees on the land were cut down this past fall, she said.

Greening said she's concerned about how the manure might impact Tenmile Creek, a Class 1 trout stream that is a tenth of a mile from one of the fields and which runs through her backyard. She's also worried about her family's access to clean drinking water.

'My biggest concern is that my drinking water will be contaminated with the amount of manure application that it will take to grow crops on the sandy soils,' said Greening, who noted that groundwater monitoring wells at Central Sands last year showed nitrate levels substantially higher than state drinking water standards.

In May, Greening recorded video of truckers hauling manure and posted the recordings online. The fields have since been seeded and are growing organic sweet corn, according to Wysocki.

The DNR is still reviewing the environmental implications of the proposed new CAFO in Saratoga.

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