Proposed CAFO draws fire from Sylvester residents

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Associate Editor

TOWN OF SYLVESTER - The April 6 approval of an application by Tuls Dairies for a 5,800 cow dairy has drawn criticism from residents and a citizen group, Green County Defending Our Farmland (GCDF).

Residents in Sylvester Township are upset at the approval of a plan for 5,800 cow dairy, Pinnacle Dairy.

Proposed plans for Pinnacle Dairy, LLC, a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), would include six sand-bedded freestall barns, a milking parlor, a cow holding area, and a building for sands and manure solids separation and storage, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Liquid manure would be stored in one liquid tight concrete-lined waste storage facility pond and three high density polyethylene (HDPE) lined waste storage facility ponds, designed to provide more than 360 days of liquid manure storage.

Opposition to the plan stems, in part, from a large manure spill at another dairy owned by Tuls, Emerald Sky Dairy in St. Croix County. The spill occurred in late 2016 but was not reported until the end of March. The DNR is still investigating that spill and would not comment on the issue.

In an April 18 story in the GazetteXtra, T.J. Tuls, who manages Rock Prairie Dairy, east of Janesville, said Emerald is an old facility with maintenance issues. Spills like the one that occurred at Emerald couldn't really happen at Rock Prairie the way pipes and facilities were built.

Rock Prairie is a mirror image to the proposed Pinnacle Dairy plan, a story in the GazetteXtra said.


According to GCDF, the Green County Land and Water Conservation Committee approved plans for the project "amidst stern cautions" from Tuls lawyers and Green County Corporation Counsel indicating that a no vote would be countered by a lawsuit.

Letters to the editor in the Post Messenger Recorder from April 13 and April 20 point to concerns of more manure spills if the Pinnacle Dairy project is completed.

County Conservationist Todd Jenson, in his Livestock Siting report, asked for several conditions to be met if the Pinnacle application was approved. Green County Land and Water Conservation staff and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection staff be present during observations and readings related to the conditions, Jenson said in his report.

Livestock Siting paperwork includes an application and five worksheets which sets standards and procedures local governments must use if requiring conditional use or other permits for expanding livestock operation.

According to GCDF, concerned citizens will have one more chance to voice their concerns at a public hearing for the dairy's Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES), which has not been scheduled at this time.

The local farmer-led activist group, GCDF, has opposed the Pinnacle Dairy Project from the beginning. In a statement sent to media, the group is "calling on the Green County Board of Supervisors to pass a moratorium on the permitting of large confined animal facilities until possible effects on water quality can be assessed.

According to GCDF, the county is "currently undertaking a hydrogeologic study with a private firm to understand the vulnerability of the groundwater."

The group goes on to say, "Recent news about the pollution of private wells by manure spreading in Kewaunee and La Crosse counties has moved towns and counties across the state to take a closer look at the siting of such facilities and the regulation of manure spreading."

“It makes sense for the county to complete the hydrogeologic study and assess the impact of more manure spreading on our shared water resources before we accept more CAFOs, especially very large ones,” said Jen Reimer, the founder of GCDF, a beef farmer and neighbor to the proposed Pinnacle Dairy.

Pinnacle timeline

According to newspaper articles, Todd Tuls, owner of Tuls Dairies, set his sights on Wisconsin in 2010 when he eyed Rock Prairie for a 5,200-cow dairy farm in Bradford Township, according to the GazetteXtra. At the time Tuls owned two dairies in Nebraska — a 6,000 and a 4,600 cow dairy.

In August 2015, representatives for Pinnacle Dairy met with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to begin filing application materials.

In September 2015, there was an open house at Rock Prairie Dairy to show what Pinnacle Dairy would look like.

By December 2015, the Independent Register reported plans for Pinnacle Dairy hitting a wall because of water problems on the site.

Plans and reports for the project were submitted to the DNR throughout 2016, according to the DNR website.

The DNR responded to results of the groundwater investigative monitoring in August 2016 saying it "believes perched saturation has been demonstrated," however decisions issued by the department "do not constitute a final decision on the issuance of a WPDES permit for Pinnacle Dairy."

Representatives from Tuls Dairies couldn't be reached for comment.