Bryce at Decatur Town Meeting

By Cynthia L. Miller


TOWN OF DECATUR – About a dozen people attended the Aug. 17 regular monthly meeting of the Town of Decatur. They came to voice their concerns regarding the proposed construction of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in Sylvester Township by the Tuls family.

Bryce Riemer spoke before the board made up of Allen Schneider, town chair, and supervisors Ron Schwartzlow, and Robert Gadow. As clerk-treasurer Ann Schwartz recorded the minutes, Riemer requested the board consider drafting ordinances protecting the land surrounding the proposed CAFO in regards to manure application and possible run-off. Riemer and others who have organized against the proposed large scale animal confinement dairy operation have obtained model ordinances from Kewaunee and Dodge counties and asked that the board to take a look at them to see how they could be implemented in Decatur Township.

John Winters, president of the Decatur Lake Mill Race Association (DLMRA) spoke in support of establishing a committee or panel of citizens to help review any proposed ordinances before they are presented to the town board for action. Winters also stated that although county and township officials may feel their hands are tied and have no power in such matters, “Townships can impose more stringent laws than state laws, but they have to be able to defend them. The Town Board is responsible to the health and safety of our community. That includes providing safe roads, and water protecting our health. We need to be pro-active and set up systems to protect ourselves.”

Chairman Schneider said that although Decatur Township has no official say regarding the siting of the CAFO, but they do have the power to regulate the spreading of manure on township land.

Dick Tripp, a member of the DLMRA and also of the Water Action Volunteer (WAV) program spoke. The WAV program is a cooperative venture between the DNR and the University of Wisconsin Extension. Volunteers monitor the streams that flow into the Sugar River, measuring the water temperature, saturated oxygen, water flow, turbidity, phosphorus levels, salinity and other indicators of the health of the watershed.

Tripp stated they have been taking monthly water samples in 20 locations in the Searles Creek area for the past two to three years, so there is a good data base. “The phosphorus levels are in pretty good shape and we would like to keep it that way,” he remarked. Both the Searles and Norwegian Creeks would be affected by potential run-off from the proposed CAFO.

Peg Sheaffer said that she has been reading about CAFOs and feels that it is very important on the local level to put protection in place for families and the community. She gave the example of what has happened in Kewanee County where 30% of the private wells are contaminated. “People can’t even drink their own water,” stated the Brodhead woman. According to Schwartzlow, there are 15 CAFO’s in Kewanne County, with 78% of its land designated for manure spreading.

Meredith Tripp pointed out that the water table at the location proposed for the dairy facility is very high. “That tells you that there is water available. The corn in that area does not show the signs of stress that is seen in other areas.” The land in that area is tiled; the aquifer is high creating a greater possibility for leaching.

Town assessor Donna Wolfe served as a voice of caution asking these pointed questions, “Who would enforce these proposed ordinances? Who will impose fines? Who will test the wells? You need to make sure these regulations can be enforced. How does the board proceed?” Wolfe also warned that timing is key. “Any permits obtained by the Tuls will supersede town ordinances. It’s not so easy to write an ordinance.” She also reiterated that, “the state will always trump us [township].”

Chairman Schneider questioned that if ordinances regarding run-off, manure transfer systems, and water protection were adopted, would they apply to everybody and not just to big farmers.

Following nearly an hour and a half of discussion, a group of individuals volunteered to put a couple of ordinances together before the next meeting so that the board would have the opportunity to review them with legal counsel before acting upon them. In conclusion, chairman Schneider summed up the discussion as being a “good brainstorming session.”

The Decatur Town Board regularly meets on the third Monday of the month.