Under fire for not using environmental protection powers, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has scheduled a public meeting on plans to allow a factory farm accused of contaminating drinking water to expand.
The DNR has proposed new permit conditions that would allow Kinnard Farms to nearly double its 8,000-cow herd, though the agency says it has no indication that the Kewaunee County farm has any plans to do so.
The draft permit would also give the farm until March to come up with a plan for monitoring groundwater under the 16,000 acres of land where it spreads an estimated 103 million gallons of manure each year.
The agency announced Wednesday that it will hold an online public meeting on Jan. 20 as “an additional opportunity for individuals to provide verbal comments” on the proposal.
“All public input received will be included within the permit file and will be considered prior to making a final determination,” said permit coordinator Tyler Dix. Written comments may be submitted through Jan. 25.
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In July the Supreme Court affirmed the DNR’s authority to cap the number of animals on a farm. Now the agency plans to allow one of the state's largest dairies to nearly double in size.
The new permit was drafted after the Supreme Court issued a ruling in July affirming the DNR’s authority to cap the number of animals on a farm and require groundwater monitoring as conditions of a permit.
Agency spokesperson Sarah Hoye said in a statement that the plans will follow a “phased approach using standard protocols” to understand the manure’s impact on groundwater and guide future decisions “regarding defining the extent of any contamination.”
Hoye said in accordance with state law the DNR requested the farm provide a projected herd size but “to date the department has not received any application materials that suggest Kinnard Farms Inc. is actually expanding animal units beyond current levels.”
Chris Clayton, chief of the DNR’s agricultural runoff section, said the farm would have to show it has enough capacity to store and safely spread any additional manure before it could grow.
Midwest Environmental Advocates, which represented Kewaunee County residents who challenged previous permit modifications, called the proposal “an egregious missed opportunity” to use the authority confirmed by the Supreme Court ruling.
According to the DNR, shallow and fractured bedrock make the landscape around Kinnard Farms particularly vulnerable to groundwater contamination. As many as half the wells in the town may have been contaminated with nitrates and bacteria, which a judge in 2014 declared “a massive regulatory failure“ by the DNR.
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