Opposition Flares Around Supersize Pig Farm Proposed in Northern Wisconsin

Feb 17, 2015

The interior of a hog confinement barn.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE: Wednesday night, a Bayfield County Board vote of 8 to 5 brought the adoption of a one-year moratorium. It creates a study committee made up of six county elected and three community members; the latter will be selected through an application process. The moratorium applies to all facilities with over 1,000 animal units, unless the operation has established vested rights. It remains unclear whether the Iowa-based Reicks group falls in the "vested rights" category, because it submitted applications to both Bayfield County and the Wisconsin DNR before the February 18 county board decision.

ORIGINAL STORY: Wisconsin has plenty of cow CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), but an Iowa-based company wants to start the first huge hog operation in Bayfield County.

Reicks View Farms dates back to 1977 in Jerico, Iowa. The large purveyor purchased a dairy farm in the Town of Eileen and plan to open a 26,000 pig CAFO. Three buildings would be built on what is currently open field.

Mary Dougherty’s everyday world was about as far away from pigs as the moon. She’s a busy mother of five and an entrepreneur. Dougherty’s family lives at the other end of Bayfield County, but the proposed pig operation now consumes her. 

Reicks View Farms bought out this dairy operation in the Town of Eileen to set up new hog CAFO.
Credit S Bence

Dougherty says she’s most concerned about what would be beneath the farm's structures - manure - until workers spread it across farm fields.

"The only limit that could possibly hold it in check would be the nutrient management plan, and the DNR won’t issue a permit if there’s not enough land to spread the manure," Dougherty says.

"I’ve done quite a bit of Googling...but honestly, I cannot find one peer-reviewed article, one scholarly article that says, 'Hey, CAFOs are really good for water,'" she says. "It does not bode well for the water."

The proposed CAFO site lies about 1/3 of a mile from Fish Creek. It’s part of the watershed that empties into Chequamegon Bay and Lake Superior beyond.

Dougherty says she hopes to create conversation around the importance of the lake through a website she created.

But, she is also among a chorus calling for something tangible - a two-year Bayfield County moratorium on the CAFO. She says that would buy time to determine how manure would impact water quality if the waste doesn’t stay on fields as plans prescribed. 

Tonight, the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on the proposal. The effort would be lead by a task force composed of six county board members and six county citizens.

Board member Bill Bussey supports the idea of a moratorium. He says it would give Bayfield County a couple of years to gather data to determine if the CAFO would be a threat to the waters, "and are there more stringent standards that we could adopt that would reduce the risk of that."​

Bussey says supervisors have had too little time to digest the proposed pig farm. 

Credit Northland College

"It would have been early this fall that I first learned about it. I didn’t know what a CAFO was, but I certainly do know," Bussey says. "There’s an on-line petition, it’s been signed by over 3,000 people, you know I’ve never seen anything like that in my experience. The Ashland City Council has asked Bayfield County to impose more stringent standards, the City of Ashland gets its water out of Chequamegon Bay."

Bussey says, under special circumstances, state law allows local governments to enact environmental rules, if needed to protect public health and safety.

Randy Lehr is a water resource scientist at nearby Northland College. He says much remains to be learned about the Fish Creek watershed and how it influences Chequagamon Bay.

In the summer, Maslowski is one of Chequamegon Bay's most popular beaches, however it also has recurring high bacteria levels. Fish Creek Watershed flows into Maslowski Beach.
Credit S Bence

"Another thing that we are wrestling with is, we have a number of beaches that have these episodic closures and the closures come from high bacteria counts and we’re trying to find out what the sources of those are and so we’ve had samples that we’ve collected from the Fish Creek watershed," Lehr says.

Bayfield County board member Brett Rondeau says he hasn’t yet decided how he’ll vote Wednesday night. But concedes this much, "I’m not a big fan of moratoriums. I think it’s when something new happens, it’s sort of a knee jerk reaction to say, hold it, wait, let’s wait for two years."

Rondeau says he shares concerns about water quality, but the potential jobs a CAFO could create weigh  heavily into his opinion.

"They’re talking 30 to 35 jobs. And it’s a significant investment to them, I’m guessing it’s at least a couple or three million dollars and I think with the controls the DNR are going to have on it, they’re going to do it right, that would be a positive for me," Rondeau says.

Even if the majority imposes a moratorium, no one knows for sure it would apply to Reicks View Farm. Over the last few days. it submitted its permit applications to Bayfield County and the Wisconsin DNR.

NOTE:  Late Tuesday an alternate moratorium was released. It would last six months and would eliminate citizen representation on the study committee.

Sediment is the number one pollutant affecting Fish Creek, as seen in this aerial shot of Fish Creek following a June (2012) rainstorm. - Fish Creek Partnership newsletter, Winter 2012.
Credit Northland College