Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear appeal on Kinnard Farms expansion, CAFO regulation
The Kinnard dairy farm in Kewaukee County milks 6,500 dairy cattle through a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations). The county has a problem with contaminated wells but the Kinnards say their precise manure measurement prevents run-off. Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
LINCOLN - The Wisconsin Supreme Court is stepping into an environmental battle over whether one of Kewaunee County's largest dairy farms should be able to expand.
The state's highest court is taking up the case involving Kinnard Farms at the request of the state's 2nd District Court of Appeals, which declined to hear the case because any ruling would have statewide implications.
At issue is legislation approved during Gov. Scott Walker’s administration that effectively curtails the state Department of Natural Resources’ authority to limit Kinnard’s herd size or require the farm to monitor groundwater as part of state permitting.
Thin soil and fractured bedrock in Kewaunee County allow manure to more easily reach groundwater, an issue that has put many of the residents at odds with the county’s 16 concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which have roughly 700 dairy cows, or more. Only Brown County with 22 CAFOs and Manitowoc County with 21 have more than Kewaunee County.
Environmentalists and neighbors have been battling Kinnard Farms since 2012, when it sought to nearly double its herd to 6,500 cows. The case has been before various administrative law and circuit court judges.
The DNR initially imposed an order to monitor well water contamination as a condition of the permit. But in 2015, the agency had second thoughts about its authority to impose such an order. It sought a legal opinion from then-Attorney General Brad Schimel, who said Act 21, a 2011 law, limited all agency-level regulatory decisions to criteria established by legislation, thus prohibiting the DNR from imposing the monitoring provision as part of the permit.
Kinnard went ahead with the expansion, but environmentalists appealed in order to maintain regulatory controls.
That's the case the Supreme Court will now consider.
"We look forward to arguing the merits of this case and reaching a resolution for Kewaunee County residents who want to protect the water they drink and the value of land that has been in their families for generations," said Tressie Kamp, staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, which is representing the neighbors of the farm.
No one from Kinnard Farms responded to a call for comment.
The company not only proceeded with the expansion under question but also applied for and received another permit in 2018 to allow it to expand to about 9,000 cows by 2022.
The eventual ruling is not just about the farm but also could affect the regulatory power of all state agencies, according to the parties involved and the 2nd District Court.
“We agree ... that the court’s determination regarding the scope and breadth of Act 21 will have implications far beyond the permitting process for high capacity wells and pollution discharge elimination systems and will touch every state agency within Wisconsin,” the court wrote in certifying the case.
Written briefs are expected to be filed with the Supreme Court by late spring, with oral arguments to be heard in late fall or early winter.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or email@example.com.