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Langlade County townships under fire for charging farmers to haul manure

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Town officials claim heavy manure tanker trucks are causing damage to town roads in Langlade County.

The towns of Peck, Polar and Wolf River in Langlade County are under fire for ordinances that charge farmers using heavy hauling equipment to haul manure on town roads.

Three organizations – Venture Dairy Cooperative, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce – wrote open letters to the towns asking them to rescind the ordinances.

Polar's hauling ordinance was passed in 2015 and Wolf River's in 2018, both to take effect beginning the following year. Peck's ordinance was adopted on July 14 this year, but will not take effect until next year. The town board is still meeting with locals to amend the ordinance.

The letters threatened litigation if the ordinances were not rescinded. The authors claim the ordinances violate the state implements of husbandry law, which was passed in 2013 with former governor Scott Walker at the forefront of the legislation.

The law created definitions for implements of husbandry and agricultural commercial motor vehicles and it also gave baseline guidance for towns and counties wanting to customize their own implements ordinances. 

The Peck, Polar and Wolf River ordinances all require farmers to post surety bonds in differing amounts in order to haul manure, while no alternative route is currently available.

Peck requires a $100,000 surety bond per road used, while Polar requires $50,000 for all roads and Wolf River requires $50,000 per road. The bond is said to ensure any damage to the roads used is paid for, and all roads will be subject to inspection before and after hauling.

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The open letter claims the ordinances are unlawful and unethical because they put a burden on farmers, for whom hauling manure is a necessity. The state implements law does not give towns and counties the authority to pose a surety bond on farmers, the letter also claims, and the statute does not give them authority to discriminate based on commodity. The authors write that damage is done to roads regardless of what is being hauled.

Rich Wiegert, Peck town supervisor and second vice-chairman for the Langlade County Board, said the ordinance is necessary because Peck doesn't have the money to repair roads being damaged largely by manure haulers.

He said most of the damage being done is caused by heavy manure hauling equipment, and roads previously damaged are still not entirely fixed because the money isn't there.

Peck supervisor Rich Wiegert says manure hauling is causing damage to the town's roads, while the town does not have enough money to repair them.

"We can't afford to wreck these roads. We have no money to fix them," Wiegert said. "We're not trying to hurt the farmer by any means. We're trying to figure out alternate solutions to making this work. Having all those heavy trucks, those roads weren't built for that."

Wiegert said the town board is not discriminating against farmers, and because of their reaction, the town board is still holding meetings with them to determine alternative solutions to pay for the roads.

He said one mile of blacktop is $80,000, which adds up quickly when farmers are hauling manure for several miles on town roads. He said he's been working to find an alternate route, especially one with a county road that Peck wouldn't be responsible for repairing.

"County roads are built a lot stronger than town roads are," Wiegert said. "Some of our township roads, they're fragile. They're used to the old tractors and trailers and stuff like that. It's the heavy pounding of truck after truck after truck going down the same path with the heavier weight, it just can't withstand it."

Jason Nagel, a Peck farmer who grows corn, alfalfa and oats, said he felt the town board was targeting him and other farmers because potato growers and loggers also drive on the town roads using heavy equipment.

He added that when he went to town board meetings to discuss the ordinance, the board didn't seem open to discussion and they were uninterested in justifying their decisions.

"We're just not getting answers to justify a lot of what they're doing," Nagel said. "We still feel targeted, that a lot of it has to do with the manure haulers. I don't feel like there's a lot of reason for what they're doing, other than the fact that they're doing it."

Nagel also said the town board didn't try to reach out to community members, especially farmers, for input on the new ordinance before it was passed, although they are looking to amend it now.

He said he wasn't sure if he'd be able to afford taking out surety bonds because his insurance could drop him for the large expenses. He also said it's unfair for farmers because of the way the economy has been this year.

"I had to contact my insurance company to find out what it would cost – it's a $100,000 bond and it would cost us $1,000 for (each) bond," Nagel said. "In this day and age, with the way the farming economy is, it's another expense to us. ... We run the risk of the insurance companies saying 'you're done.'"

Scott Manley, executive vice president of government relations for WMC who co-wrote the letter, said the ordinance would create a disruption in Wisconsin's agriculture economy.

He claimed that the ordinance violates the Wisconsin constitution's equal protection clause by specifically pointing out manure hauling instead of all heavy hauling on town roads – the ordinance should apply equally to all commodities, he said.

"If a local government, like a town, is concerned about weight limits, they are required under the constitution to apply weight restrictions uniformly," Manley said. "You can't, under our constitution, just pick out one commodity and say, 'You can haul 50,000 pounds of anything you want – except manure.' That's not allowed."

Manley also said that while state law allows for the town to block certain roads from a hauling route, it doesn't give them the right to effectively ban haulers from all roads by requiring expensive bonds. He said he felt the ordinance came out of nowhere and was surprised that Peck would pass such an ordinance.

He said he hopes the town board will have a conversation with him and other petitioners, but litigation is not out of the question if it doesn't result in big changes.

"We think that the law is pretty clear," Manley said. "We hope that they would be reasonable and hope that they take their oath to uphold the laws of the state of Wisconsin ... seriously and revise the ordinance so that it actually aligns with state law."

Kim Bremmer, executive director of Venture Dairy Cooperative and owner of Ag Inspirations, said the Peck town board should be asking for help in a different way. She said farmers already help pay for road maintenance and repair through their property taxes and what they contribute to the local economy.

She said the ordinance is a result of bad policy making that never included the voice of farmers to her knowledge.

"I think there's always this underlying assumption that farmers typically don't question it or they'll just pay it," Bremmer said. "I'm not going to say that they're unfairly asking for help, but to do it in this way, I think, is what is really unfair and bad policy. Why not have a discussion with farmers and have them involved in the process?"