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State hears public comments about potential changes to livestock farms

About 50 people gathered Monday afternoon at Chippewa Valley Technical College to voice support and opposition toward potential changes to livestock siting rules in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection facilitated the afternoon hearing and another hearing Monday evening at CVTC.

At the first hearing, 20 people spoke, with 12 of them voicing their opposition to the proposed changes and eight generally in favor. Speakers included farm owners, concerned citizens, and leaders of state agriculture groups.

Eau Claire was the second of six locations around the state in August and September to host public hearings on the topic. Oshkosh hosted the first hearing last week, while Wausau will have hearings Tuesday and Madison will host sessions Thursday.

Audience members discussed proposed revisions to ATCP 51, legislation that began in 2006 and has not been altered since. The potential changes are in relation to nutrient management, waste storage facilities, runoff management, odor and setbacks.

The proposed changes would affect counties, towns and municipalities that require local approval for the siting of livestock facilities.

Eau Claire County does not have livestock siting ordinances, but several bordering and nearby counties do. The Eau Claire County Board had a moratorium on the expansion and creation of large livestock facilities that began last October and expired this June.

Chris Clayton, DATCP program manager of the livestock facility siting, presented background information Monday for about 30 minutes, then the public hearing began. Commenters were given five minutes to present public testimony. Clayton said the hearing served as part of an ongoing conversation and represented a variety of thoughts about the topic.

Those who spoke against the changes mostly mentioned the potentially negative economic consequences. Those in favor shared personal stories and expressed concern about impacts on water, land and air quality, particularly related to concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which are farms with 1,000 livestock or more.

Jim Holte, President of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, spoke first and opposed the draft rule.

“I’m greatly concerned that this draft rule will only add to an already difficult financial time for livestock farmers,” Holte said.

Jim Kusilek, owner of Kusilek Farms, a CAFO in Barron County, said well-run, innovative CAFOs can have positive impacts on a community.

“We need to embrace the resources that we have and acknowledge the benefits that dairy brings to our state,” Kusilek said. “...Let’s find ways to get along rather than pushing businesses out. I will challenge you to find an industry to replace dairy.”

Kusilek said implementing changes would hurt Wisconsin’s bottom line. Jim Moriarty, a Compeer Financials employee, agreed.

“If we take steps to curb growth of dairy in Wisconsin, it will grow elsewhere and we will diminish here,” Moriarty said.

Julie Keown-Bomar, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said she supported ATCP 51 as a way to protect water and air quality and hold CAFOs accountable.

“If the CAFOs that are in opposition to the rule changes are really so precariously situated that requiring them to respect roads and neighbors will destroy their business, then we better not send any other new farms down this path,” Keown-Bomar said.

Ann Hansen resides in Chippewa County and said local governments are fairly powerless from stopping new, potentially unwanted CAFOs from moving into towns.

“CAFOs are lousy neighbors,” Hanson said. “They pollute water supplies, they stink up the neighborhood, they lower the property values … I am all for farming, but to put an industrial, intensive livestock operation into a neighborhood and pretty much ruin it for everybody else, is not right.”

Mary Hoel, also a Chippewa County resident, agreed, noting that large operations aren’t always good stewards of the environment.

“CAFOs are not family farms, at least not the ones we’re dealing with,” she said. “They are factories.”

Amy Penterman works at Penterman Farms, a CAFO near Thorp, and said she has pride that the business is helping the environment. She said the regulations are burdensome and should be consistent and not overly complex, a common concern.

Dean Doornink, a dairy farmer from Baldwin, noted that the increased regulatory scrutiny wouldn’t help farmers and said rules should remain stable.

“As long as there’s consistency, the producer knows what he has to do to be in compliance,” Doornink said. “Changing the rules is not the way to go.”

Kim Dupre, a Minnesota resident who previously lived in Emerald, discussed a significant manure spill in March 2017 from Emerald Sky Dairy, a large farming operation. The spill resulted in significant negative consequences to local water quality and health.

Dupre advocated for increased setbacks from property lines and for industrial producers to have a contractual agreement with the companies.

“We’re used to the country smells, slow tractors on the road, excitement in the air at harvest time,” Dupre said. “That is something we enjoy, but when an industrial producer moves in next door, those sights, smells and sounds are amplified a thousand fold and are much less acceptable.”

Dupre hopes the DATCP board will “not treat rural residents living in the vicinity of an industrial producer as though we are sacrificial lambs.”

Virginia Drath, a retired dairy farmer and nurse, lives in Emerald and shared a similar story. She said that due to the 2017 spill and its impact, some residents cannot use their faucets due to unsafe water.

“When you turn on the faucet to brush your teeth tonight, pause for a minute and think about the folks in Emerald Township and the rest of Wisconsin that can’t do that without getting a bottle of water first,” Drath said.

DATCP will accept comments on the proposed rule through Sept. 13 and present a final draft ruling to the DATCP board Nov. 7. If that draft is approved, it would be submitted to the Wisconsin Legislature in January 2020.

District to lease devices for students, instead of buying

The Eau Claire school district will lease, rather than buy, new iPads and Chromebook laptops for some grades and schools, in a plan district officials say will help ease possible strain in the 2019-20 budget.

The school board voted unanimously Monday to approve the measure.

Fifth-grade students districtwide and sixth graders at Northstar and South middle schools will get replaced iPads in the 2019-20 school year. IPads at Delong Middle School were replaced in 2018.

One-quarter of high school Chromebook laptops will also be replaced under the plan.

Leasing the devices will cost about $190,000 in the first year, instead of the $645,000 up-front cost of replacing the devices.

“(This option) only differs in the financing of those devices,” said Jim Schmitt, executive director of teaching and learning.

The iPads and laptops need to be replaced, but the district can’t afford to purchase them all at once, schools superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said in a statement Thursday.

However, to lease the devices for four years, the district will have to pay each year. It would pay about $190,000 the first year and about $161,531 in the second, third and fourth years of the lease.

The total four-year cost of the leasing plan is about $649,000, according to district figures, but school administration is recommending that option because it gives flexibility and space in the budget, Schmitt said.

“This plan costs a little bit more than an outright purchase, and we still end up owning devices in the end, but it spreads the costs over four years,” Schmitt said.

The 2019-20 school year is the second year of the district’s four-year tech refresh cycle. Next year, the board will discuss purchasing another quarter of laptops for the high schools and staff devices; in two years, they’ll consider replacing the last half of the high school laptops, Schmitt said.

The current iPads and laptops should be refreshed because they’ve been used for about five years; they are functional, but the manufacturer won’t guarantee the devices will operate safely and securely after that point, said James Martin, director of technology, at an August school board meeting.

Several other district projects are still deferred from the last two years, said district business manager Abby Johnson: band uniforms for North High School for an estimated $150,000, musical instruments for the five secondary schools for about $100,000, building and grounds equipment for about $375,000 and athletic fee reductions for about $250,000.

“Those are the key things we continue to talk about year after year and need to make tough decisions on to move forward,” Johnson said.

Last school year, the board approved about $775,000 for technology updates, Johnson said.

Despite a projected seven-figure deficit for the 2018-19 budget, Hardebeck said Monday the district is hoping to drastically reduce the deficit, while still addressing some projects.

“As to what our deficit (will be), if we have a deficit, what will happen this year remains to be seen,” Hardebeck said.

Native American mascots

The board unanimously voted to adopt a resolution stemming from the Wausau school board, which would urge state lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers to prohibit Native American imagery in school mascots.

Thirty-one of Wisconsin’s 421 public school districts still use Native American mascots, symbols, images, logos or nicknames, according to the Wausau board resolution.

The Eau Claire board did not discuss the measure Monday.

The resolution states that Native American mascots and imagery in schools teaches non-Native American children that culturally abusive behavior and inaccurate misconceptions about Native American culture are acceptable.

The Eau Claire school district teaches American Indian curriculum material in first through fifth grades and eighth grade through high school, said Memorial principal Dave Oldenberg.

The board Monday also formally approved new administrators for Memorial and North high schools.

Oldenberg, former Memorial principal from 2009 to 2016, will serve as interim Memorial principal for the 2019-20 school year. He is currently the district’s director of academic services.

The district is continuing to search for a permanent Memorial principal to replace Trevor Kohlhepp, who left the district in 2019.

Mike Pernsteiner, who taught special education at North from 2006 to 2017 and was the school’s head wrestling coach, will be North’s new assistant principal and athletic director, Hardebeck said Monday.

Board member Aaron Harder was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Interim leader starts at UW-Stout

MENOMONIE — After five months of preparation, Patrick Guilfoile moved into his new office at UW-Stout Monday.

Guilfoile was selected as interim chancellor at UW-Stout after Chancellor Bob Meyer announced this spring he would retire in August. Meyer’s last day was Friday after five years as chancellor and 32 years at UW-Stout.

The new interim chancellor’s first day featured meetings with cabinet members to lay out a foundation for the school year and new staff to ensure the culture at UW-Stout continues under the leadership change.

In his role as UW-Stout’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs since July 2015, Guilfoile has filled in for the chancellor in his absence in the short-term. That experience has put him in position to get a better understanding of what his new role will entail.

“I’ve also worked closely with Chancellor Meyer and been involved in many discussions and decision-making processes, so I’ve gained some insight from that as well,” Guilfoile said. “Being the provost, I’ve had a particular opportunity to work on the academic side of the university so I have that insight, but I’ve also had the opportunity to work with people across campus so I feel like I know quite a few folks.”

A key for Guilfoile during his time as interim chancellor is maintaining the vision built by Meyer. The two were working on a comprehensive fundraising campaign that is nearing its original goal, and continuing that campaign is near the top of Guilfoile’s priorities.

“One of my thoughts was trying to make sure to preserve the legacy that he’s developed,” Guilfoile said.

The search is under way for a permanent replacement for Meyer, with applications due Friday, Sept. 13.

With a December announcement for the new full-time chancellor scheduled, Guilfoile plans to continue working toward the administration’s goals.

“The orientation will be a little bit different, but I think a lot of the work will be the same,” Guilfoile said of his interim status. “What we start or continue — for example, a comprehensive campaign that will be something that will continue this year no matter whether I continue as interim chancellor or somebody else does.”

Meyer told UW-Stout faculty and students in March he fully endorsed Guilfoile and is “very pleased that Patrick will take over as chancellor when I step away.”

Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Glendali Rodriguez took over as UW-Stout interim provost on Monday.