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At least 120 people turned out Tuesday morning for a public hearing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held to consider permit renewals or applications from five Kewaunee County Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

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LUXEMBURG - Owners of some of Kewaunee County’s largest farms sat in silence Tuesday as speaker after speaker got up to the microphone to call them greedy and accuse them of destroying the environment.

About 170 people gathered at the Kewaunee Fairgrounds to give or listen to testimony at a hearing by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources over whether to issue a permit for a new Concentrated Animal Feed Operation and reissue five-year permits to four existing CAFO farms.

Dairy Dreams and Kinnard Farms, both in Casco, and Wakker Dairy in Kewaunee all are applying for renewal and all are seeking to expand their operations.  Seidl’s Mountain View Dairy in Luxemburg is looking to renew but has no plans to expand. Sandway Farms in Denmark, which already has reached the size herd that requires a CAFO permit, is applying for its first permit.

Failing its mission

A couple dozen people spoke, with several opposing expansions, at least one calling for a reduction, and others generally condemning CAFOs, calling for denial of the permits and accusing the DNR of failing to live up to its mission statement of protecting water, air and land.

“The DNR is failing at their mission, miserably,” said Chris Seidl of the town of Pierce. “Thirty-three percent of rural Kewaunee County wells are contaminated and many of our waterways are impaired ... Current rules are being ignored, common sense is being ignored.”

Several representatives of an environmental group in Door County spoke as did a lawyer from Midwest Environmental Advocates in Madison, and several area town board and county supervisors.

Most of the speakers were just area residents.

"I don’t want my butter and cheese taken away from me, but I strongly, strongly believe you should deny any CAFO expansion," said Joe Mills of Kewaunee.

A small handful of people, including professional agronomists, spoke in favor of the CAFOs. None of the permit applicants spoke, although two had spoken earlier Tuesday at a press conference held at Kinnard Farms in Casco.

It was the first time the DNR held public hearings for multiple applicants at the same time, which drew anger from some of the anti-CAFO faction.

“I’m completely opposed to the idea we’re doing five CAFO hearings all at one time,” said Nancy Utesch, of the Kewaunee CARES activist group. “I’m glad it’s convenient for the DNR.”

Many citizens who may object to the CAFOs can’t attend daytime hearings, she added.

Addressing objections

Earlier in the morning, dairy farmers invited the media to a press conference and tour of the milking operation at Kinnard Farms in Casco. The point was to address many of the objections farmers expected to be raised at the DNR hearing.

Kinnard said he, as a fifth-generation farmer, is committed to environmental sustainability.

“I think we’re more on the same page as some of those people realize,” he said of the anti-CAFO speakers. “Area farmers are keenly aware we are farming in proximity to the world’s largest freshwater source. ... We realize as farmers it’s our responsibility to care about it.”

Large farms such as his, which milks roughly 7,000 cows a day, hold the key to finding the best ways agriculture can co-exist with the environment, Kinnard said. The scale of operation in the larger farms makes it possible to seek and try the latest technologies that will benefit all farmers and the communities surrounding them, he said.

Speaking at the press conference was Don Niles, owner of the Dairy Dreams CAFO but also president of Peninsula Pride Farms, a farmer-led environmental stewardship group in Kewaunee and Door counties.

The group formed about two years ago and now represents half of all farms, acreage and cows in the two counties, Niles said.  The purpose of the group is to share best-practice technologies, developing those technologies through new farm demonstration projects and improve community relations about the work being done, Niles said

“We can have both safe, clean drinking water and a thriving agricultural community here,” Niles said. “We recognize we need to do things differently from the past, but we need a vector, an arrow to point the way to go, and that’s what science has brought.”

The DNR will accept written public comments through the end of the day Dec. 5. Comments can be submitted to Casey Jones, Oshkosh Service Center, 625 E. County Road Y, Oshkosh, WI, 54901, or Casey.Jones@wi.gov

A decision on the permit applications is expected in mid- to late-December.

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