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SARATOGA - An attorney has assured hundreds of Saratoga residents they still have options to block a proposed mega-dairy despite a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that allows the owners to farm 6,388 acres in the town.

Paul Kent, a lawyer working for the town of Saratoga near Wisconsin Rapids, told more than 200 people in a packed town hall meeting that the fight is not over against the proposed 5,300-cow dairy, commonly referred to as a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.

The dairy operation has been a contentious issue since June 2012, when Wysocki Family of Companies executive Jim Wysocki first proposed a 3,500-cow farm in Saratoga and applied for town, county and state permits. Saratoga did not have zoning ordinances in place at the time. Residents, worried that the waste from the cows and farming operations would harm the quality and quantity of local water and shrivel their property values, almost immediately began organizing to fight the proposed CAFO.

The Wysocki proposal has since grown to include 5,300 cows. 

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The town put a moratorium on all building permits, and the Wysockis filed two civil suits. One lawsuit was to force the town to issue the building permits and the second was to allow the dairy to use land that was part of the initial proposal for crops. Both court cases have concluded with decisions in the proposed dairy's favor. 

The town's zoning ordinance, enacted a few months after the Wysockis filed permit applications, is still valid, Kent told the crowd during the June 27 town hall. The ordinance makes the dairy a nonconforming use of the property and puts limits on expansions, modifications or discontinuation. If the proposed farm, named the Golden Sands Dairy, stops operating as a dairy, the company can no longer farm the land, he said. 

The courts also have said that the land can be used for the dairy and farming as long as the building permits issued by the town don't expire. Kent said the town's position is that the permits have expired, but it is a difficult point to make because of the delays caused by the court battles, he said. 

The next option for the town is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources permitting process, Kent said.

The DNR has not completed the environmental impact statement for the Golden Sands Dairy, said Dan Helsel, a spokesman for the state agency. The DNR has not issued permits for the dairy but will continue with the permitting process now that the Supreme Court has issued its ruling, he said.

Saratoga officials and residents will have the opportunity to speak during public hearings related to the DNR permit process, Kent said. If the agency decides to approve the permits for a waste removal system and high-capacity well, the town can ask for a contested case hearing, which is a formal proceeding to challenge the permits, he said. The town also can file for a judicial review if it doesn't like the decision from the contested case hearing, Kent said. 

Another option open to the town is an ordinance the Saratoga Town Board adopted that requires any livestock facility to meet stated groundwater standards, Kent said. The town can enforce the ordinance. It's unlikely Golden Sands will be able to meet the standards, he said. 

The final measure the town can take stems from the groundwater monitoring the town has been doing for the past four years. 

"We have one of the most extensive databases on groundwater information that exists anywhere in the state," Kent said.

Saratoga's groundwater is below all suggested maximums for contaminates and the entire town complies with standards, he said. The town also has easy access to a large water supply. Many residents have shallow wells. If the groundwater is diminished after a dairy operation begins, the town has the ability to bring legal action against the Wysocki Family of Companies, Kent said. 

The Wysockis operate another dairy about 12 miles southwest of the proposed Golden Sands Dairy site, and testing near that farm has shown nitrate levels in wells almost eight times the drinking water standard, Kent said. Long-term drinking of water high in nitrates can lead to thyroid problems, diabetes and certain cancers. 

The Wysocki Family of Companies did not return a phone message left about the Saratoga meeting. The company also has not comment on previous reports of high nitrate levels near the Central Sands Dairy.

The information should help in the fight against the Golden Sands Dairy in Sararoga because the town has evidence to back up its health concerns, he said.

Water contamination meeting

The Juneau and Wood County Health and Land Water Resource departments conducted a groundwater survey on May 30 and found high levels of nitrates in some areas, according to the Wood County Health Department.

Residents can learn about the results of the survey during an educational session at the Necedah Town Hall, 101 Center, St., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 17. 

The Wood County Health Department encourages survey participants as well as residents of the town of Armenia and southern Wood County to attend the sessions. 

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