Update: Eau Claire County Board hears arguments in proposed large farm ban

Update (WQOW) – The Eau Claire County Board discussed banning the expansion or new development of large-scale livestock farms in the county at its meeting Tuesday, but farm business groups claim state law may prohibit the county from going forward with the ordinance.

Tuesday, the county board had the first reading on the ordinance that would put a one-year moratorium on new or expanding large-scale farms, with no discussion on what the board can legally do.

The board was encouraged by public testimony to really know the facts before making a decision. Both sides of the argument are getting public support.

Public testimony rang through the county board room as farmers and environmentalists pleaded their cases. Some referred to the the letter sent by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce on the board’s legal authority to impose a ban.

“Elected officials have an obligation to follow the law and the law is pretty clear here that Eau Claire County doesn’t have the authority to place a moratorium on new or expanding dairy farms,” said Scott Manley, Senior Vice President of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Manley said the ability to restrict big farms became the state’s decision a number of years ago. He mentioned these large farms are already heavily regulated, and are required to have the technology to protect the environment. “The county board has produced no evidence whatsoever that the large dairy farms that could potentially be impacted by this are having an impact on the environment,” Manley said.

However, County Board Supervisor Joe Knight said recent groundwater studies show Eau Claire’s water already has issues. “1 in 20 wells exceeds health standards for nitrates, we have a green river, so we’ve got some issues already with some excessive phosphorous in the water,” Knight said.

That’s part of the reason why the board wants to halt expansion for 12 months, to further examine the environmental impact of these large-scale farms. “There’s concern when you have a thousand critters the size of steers together you have a lot of manure to deal with,” Knight told News 18.

It’s worth pointing out there is only one concentrated animal feeding organization, or CAFO, in Eau Claire County. Public testimony Tuesday suggested some smaller farmers are looking to expand.

The county board will revisit this moratorium again October 2. The question will become: if the board does pass the ordinance, will it be challenged in court?

Eau Claire County (WQOW) -The Eau Claire County Board will discuss banning any new large-scale livestock farms for at least a year.

We told you about this proposed moratorium earlier this summer, but now there could be a wrinkle in the plan after protests from farm business groups.

Tuesday night board members will have the first hearing on the matter, County Board Supervisor Joe Knight is in favor of the plan, which would ban all new Concentrated Animal Feeding Organizations, or CAFO, for one year.

A CAFO is a farm with 1,000 animal units.

Knight said although we only have one of these large operations in the county, a lot of smaller farms are going out of business and these large-scale facilities are worrisome for the environment.

He said passing a one-year moratorium would give them a chance to do some research and find out how these CAFO’s are impacting our water and air.

“From an environmental standpoint, there’s concern when you have 1,000 critters the size of steers together you have a lot of manure to deal with and we already have some issues in Eau Claire County,” Knight said.

Senior Vice President of Government Relations with the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Scott Manley said large farms don’t hurt the environment because they’re already the most heavily regulated farms in the state, required to have no discharge of pollution.

Manley said a big program with the plan is that it’s unlawful.

“Legislature made a policy decision a number of years ago that deciding new, or expanded, large-scale dairy farms is a matter of statewide concern and the legislature withdrew the authorities local government like Eau Claire County to make those decisions,” Manley said.

Knight told News 18 the board will be talking about the legality of the proposal at its meeting Tuesday night and it could even be voted on.

Manley said if it’s passed it could be challenged in court.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Eau Claire County Courthouse in the county board meeting room.

Shannon Satterlee

Shannon Satterlee

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