Wisconsin Case Illustrates Controversy over Livestock Farm Expansion

Lee Bergquist reported yesterday at the Milwaukee¬†Journal Sentinel Online that, “A Dane County judge has ruled the Department of Natural Resources can’t backtrack from an earlier decision and must proceed with imposing environmental protections on a large dairy farm expansion.

“The ruling is the most recent example where the regulatory authority of the DNR has been called into question. The judge said the agency in this case had the power to place limits on farmers to protect public waters.

“The issue is far from settled, and in this instance the owners of the farm say they might appeal the ruling.”

The article noted that, “The court decision is the latest development in a dispute over plans by Kinnard Farms to expand dairy operations by thousands of cows in Kewaunee County, where groundwater contamination has fanned tensions between farmers and non-farmers.

“Dane County Circuit Judge John W. Markson ruled last week the DNR must require Kinnard to install groundwater monitoring equipment and place a cap on the number of cattle the farm could keep. Both requirements are aimed at protecting groundwater.”

Mr. Bergquist included this background that preceded Judge Markson’s ruling: “The case dates back to March 2012 when Kinnard sought permission from the DNR to expand its herd. Environmental groups and others challenged the expansion.

“A state administrative law judge ruled the farm could expand, but said the DNR must require monitoring and a maximum limit on cows.”

The article went on to note that, “Kinnard appealed, and in November 2014, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp denied the appeal.

“Eight months later, and ‘for reasons that remain obscure,’ [Judge] Markson wrote, the DNR in August 2015 asked the state Justice Department whether the agency had the authority to impose such limits on farms because of a 2011 law, Act 21, that says state agencies can’t dictate requirements on parties unless the power is spelled out in law.

“One day later, the Justice Department issued a legal opinion saying the DNR does not have such authority. In September 2015, the DNR announced it was granting Kinnard a permit. The farm said it would grow from 4,000 to 6,700 milking cows.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “[Judge]¬†Markson said Act 21 must be interpreted in conjunction with other laws that give the DNR the power to govern waste water. He said Stepp’s decision to reverse herself was ‘untimely and beyond her authority, ‘ adding ‘our administrative process (does) not allow an agency to change its mind on a whim or for political purposes.'”


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