Farmers: Board's removal of trout project 'devastating'
PLOVER - Two Portage County farmers said they were devastated when they discovered Tuesday morning that a man-made trout spawning habitat they built and are fighting in court to keep was being removed at the direction of the Portage County Drainage Board.
Donald and Lynn Isherwood, owners of Isherwood Family Farms, spent years building a trout habitat in a drainage ditch near their operation. The project consisted of woody debris, such as Christmas trees, that acted like a filter to scrub silt from water as it moved downstream. The project was met with opposition by neighbors, who said it put their fields at risk, and the board, who said project didn't follow proper procedures, a conflict detailed in a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin report published in April.
The work required the permission of two agencies: the Department of Natural Resources, which granted an after-the-fact permit for the work in December, and the Drainage Board. The latter has not approved the work and pledged to remove the project, despite a pending lawsuit on the matter, in July.
The Isherwoods learned Tuesday morning that the board obtained special permission from the DNR to work in the ditches ahead of the normal schedule and that the Isherwoods' project would be removed completely by the end of the day.
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"I feel betrayed," Donald Isherwood said. "We paid for a permit. We went through the permit process. We went through the hearing process."
The Isherwoods and the Drainage Board were scheduled to face a judge later this month over the Isherwoods' request for a temporary injunction that could have blocked the board from removing the project while the lawsuit plays out in court. The suit seeks clarification of what it means to obstruct the ditch, the violation of which the board accuses the Isherwoods.
Drainage Board Chairman Paul Cieslewicz said the board requested permission from the DNR to work in the ditches ahead of the typical schedule because he said some of the woody debris the Isherwoods placed was moving. The Drainage Board has maintained that the trout habitat could cause flooding on neighbors' land and ruin their ability to farm.
"With the wet spring and everything else, stuff was moving again," he said. "It just was a matter of we need to protect the drainage ditch's profile. We decided if we could get in early, we would."
The DNR declined to comment on the matter for this report, citing the ongoing court case.
Cieslewicz and the Isherwoods both said the plan to continue the legal process. Cieslewicz said the board is open to reviewing a request from the Isherwoods to do the project again if it is proposed and vetted through the proper channels.
Donald Isherwood said Tuesday he was unsure whether he would pursue permission to rebuild, adding that it had been "an enormous mental, physical, financial burden."
"I think we have to keep trying," he said. "We proved what is possible to do with these waters, and it is magnificent. And, it's something that this county, this state, cannot simply turn its back on."
Sari Lesk: 715-345-2257 or email@example.com; on Twitter @Sari_Lesk.