CAFO moratorium sent to county board
On a 3-2 vote, the St. Croix County Community Development Committee last week sent a proposed moratorium on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to the county board for consideration at its November meeting.
Technically, though no agenda has been set, the board could act on the moratorium at its November meeting, though community development committee chairperson Agnes Ring said an informational session for the board is planned in December.
At the information session, Ring said, staff members from community development, corporation counsel, and health and human services will present background information on issues related to groundwater, CAFO regulation, and health-related concerns surrounding large livestock facilities.
Though moratoriums on CAFOs have been passed by other counties — Dunn County recently — St. Croix County Corporation Counsel Scott Cox said legal ramifications remain unclear.
“It’s unsettled whether a county can enact a moratorium,” Cox said. “But understand there are certain legal risks if you do that. Someone who is affected by your moratorium could expose you to legal action or sue for damages, etc.”
The current proposed moratorium is six months, same as Dunn County, with an optional extension for another six months.
“I can tell you if you enact this moratorium you should do so with a very specific purpose, it should be as short as possible, it should not be drug out,” Cox said. “These should be absolute goals to achieve and courts have looked at moratoria and the shorter ones are looked upon more favorably than [a] longer one.”
Another issue to keep in mind, Cox said, was anything passed regarding CAFOs in the county would not be retroactive and would only apply to future applicants.
Ring said there are water issues in the county, but was hesitant to point to dairy farming as the singular issue.
“I think we should look at all groundwater problems regardless of the source,” she said.
After a lengthy public comment portion of the meeting, with a number of local dairy farmers and concerned citizens alike commenting from both sides of the issue, committee member Jill Ann Berke made a motion to send the moratorium on to the full board.
“I feel there is a sense of urgency here,” she said.
That sense of urgency was not shared by committee member Tom Coulter.
Coulter said the farming industry, especially dairy farms, have been demonized with no real evidence in support.
“I think that’s grossly unfair,” Coulter said. “I just oppose this for the moment.”
Berke said putting the moratorium in front of the full board earlier should give them the time to find answers to their questions and still act in a timely manner.
Committee members Dan Hansen, Laurie Bergren and Berke voted in favor of the moratorium, while Ring and Coulter voted against.
John R. Russett is editor of the Hudson Star Observer