Elkhorn family wins appeal in expansion dispute
ELKHORN - Adam and Jennifer Friemoth have done their best to be good neighbors to those living in the vicinity of their dairy farm.
Each fall for the past 11 years, the couple has invited nearby residents to an “open barn” event, where their non-farm neighbors tour the farm, watch the evening milking and share a meal with them.
“It’s always been an enjoyable time for everyone,” Jennifer Friemoth said.
Friemoth admits to feeling blind-sided when one of their neighbors – Cary and Laurie Glenner, the owners of a vacation home located south of dairy farm on Bowers Road – challenged the family’s quest to expand their dairy operation up to 944 animal units.
“I didn’t realize there was so much dislike out there for our farm,” Friemoth said. “Luckily it all worked out in the end.”
Last month the state Livestock Facility Siting Review Board sided with the Friemoths, determining that Walworth County had not only overreached its authority when issuing a conditional use permit to Friemoth Farms but failed to follow state procedures in approving the permit.
Trouble on the horizon
Friemoth said the trouble started last summer when the Glenners returned to their summer home for the Fourth of July weekend. After spying the bright orange sign posted at the Friemoth’s farm notifying adjacent property of the family’s plans for a proposed expansion, Cary Glenner made a visit to the farm.
“He accused us of sneaking behind the back of the neighbors,”Friemoth said, “when, in fact, we were doing everything the county had told us to do – legally.”
Glenner said that he and his wife purchased their Walworth County property 25 years ago, knowing from the start they were moving into an agricultural community.
"At that time there was only corn and soybeans growing (on the property adjacent to the Glenners)," Glenner said. "It went from no animal units to 500 and now (the proposed) 944."
After Walworth County officials issued a conditional use permit in September 2017 allowing the Friemoths to expand their herd from 300 to over 900 animal units, the Glenners filed an appeal with the state review board a month later, on Oct. 18, citing concerns over possible water runoff onto their adjacent property.
"We're just trying to find a balance between good farming and protecting the environment," Glenner said. "We're not doing anything to their property, we're just trying to coexist and be good neighbors."
The Friemoths subsequently filed a separate appeal contesting several conditions that Walworth County officials had included on the farm’s permit including daily cleanups of manure left on town roads, limiting manure hauling between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and requiring the farm to provide ample manure storage facilities.
According to the board’s final decision issued on Jan. 29, Walworth County failed to comply with state statutes regarding the hauling times, road cleanup and storage of manure and reversed the county-imposed conditions.
That board also opined that an existing feed storage structure found to be in compliance for its use. The claim filed by the Glenners pointed out that the structure was not evaluated for compliance with state standards for runoff management. The board pointed out that particular standard in question applies only to feed storage structures holding high moisture feed and are one acre or more in size.
While the original expansion permit was reversed by the board, Friemoth says the family is working with county officials to amend the permit before reissuing it.
“We’ve had a good working relationship with the county throughout the process,” Friemoth said. “Hopefully we can move forward.”
Friemoth said before the appeals put the brakes on the expansion process, she had builders lined up for the project and ready to go.
“Those bids that were on hold are no longer good. Hopefully the delay won’t cost us more money in the end,” she said.
During the appeals process, a handful of neighbors living on Bowers Road submitted comments to the state Livestock Facility Siting Review Board. While some complained of odor issues, others took issue with what they perceived was lack of oversight.
“We feel that our government has failed us once again by allowing farmers whatever they want simply because, after all, we are in a farming community,” wrote Mark and Gayle Bong. “What is the point of setting limits on farmers in the first place when nobody monitors them? What is the point of requiring them to apply for a variance if the board grants their petition regardless of the many legitimate concerns of the community?”
Glenner said he and other residents in the neighborhood had hoped they could have had a dialogue with the Friemoths about the pending expansion.
"My neighbors and I reached out to the Friemoths and their legal counsel on multiple occasions to discuss options for the Friemoths' expansion while also protecting the public's health and welfare," he said. "However, the refused to engage in any discussion."
Friemoth hopes that members of the non-farming community were enlightened to the bevy of regulatory hoops that farms are required to jump through during the permitting process.
“I hope during the hearing that they were made aware that we do have to adhere to strict guidelines and regulations. We just can’t do whatever we want” she said. “We’ve talked to all the engineers and land conservation people because we realize that agriculture must be sustainable.