Wetland rules put pig factory on hold

Site where Cumberland LLC offers a pig facility. (Greg Seitz / Sainte-Croix 360)

Some of the ground where Cumberland LLC wants to build three large pigsties and manure ponds is saturated with water, according to consultants hired by the company. Groundwater has been found just below the surface of fields recently used for growing corn.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says these wet soils and other indicators mean the site is a protected wetland, and developers must apply for permits to disturb it.

But Cumberland disagrees. The company, which is backed by a company in Iowa, wants to open a 26,000 hog facility near the Trade and Wood rivers, tributaries of the St. Croix River. He stated in his request that wetlands were created by human actions and are therefore exempt from regulation.

The pig facility would include three manure storage tanks under the barns, which apparently extend below the water table in parts of the site. The pits are designed to be at least 10 feet deep.

The documents Cumberland submitted to MNR include photos, maps and analyzes performed by environmental engineers. A consultant dug test wells throughout the site to document the depth of the groundwater.

“[Saturated] soils have been identified in the wetland soil cores, ”reported consultants from Tetra Tech, hired by Cumberland. “Appropriate permits and authorizations for wetlands will need to be obtained for impacts on wetlands. “

Photos of soil tests courtesy of Sand Creek Consultants and Tetra Tech.

Wetlands are protected by federal and state laws because they help prevent flooding, reduce water pollution, and provide valuable habitat for wildlife. To receive a permit to modify a wetland, developers usually have to purchase credits that protect wetlands elsewhere.

“Landowners and developers are required to avoid wetlands with their projects whenever possible; Said the DNR. “If wetlands cannot be avoided, they must apply for permits and receive approval to proceed with the proposed impacts on wetlands.

Wetland protections can be bypassed if a landowner can prove that there was no wetland at a site before 1991 through the use of historical maps, images, surveys and others. resources.

Cumberland said “the existing area is currently used for agricultural production,” and the company’s consultants pointed to “evidence of farming practices in recent years and widespread grass seed in 2019”.

On July 30, MNR informed Cumberland that it had rejected the determination of engineered wetlands. This was followed by a notice that the remainder of the request would be put on hold until the wetland issues were resolved.

“While the characteristics of long-term agriculture could [in] changes in soil properties such as bulk density and can be attributed in part to human activity, if such large-scale spatial and temporal justifications qualified for an artificial exemption, essentially all areas with no area history wetlands before 1991 would lose state protection, ”the DNR wrote. “Therefore, MNR made a political decision that the criteria for human disturbance should be more specific, such as leveling, infilling or drainage changes made at any given time on, adjacent to or near the parcel in question. “

The agency says the wetlands identified by Cumberland consultants do not appear to be caused by human activity.

The request being refused, the proposal is in limbo. Cumberland may need to modify his proposal or seek mitigation measures. Due to the prospect of such significant design changes, MNR will not continue to review the application until the wetland issues have been approved.

“Following the man-made wetland decision, other wetland permit options should be explored based on anticipated wetland disturbance with the proposed site layout,” MNR wrote to Jeff Sauer of Cumberland LLC. “Due to the potential for significant site design changes, ministry policy is not to approve plans and specifications until permitting decisions for the wetlands are finalized. “

The company has 30 days to appeal the MNR’s decision and request a judicial review or a contested case hearing.

Located on Highway 48 in the town of Trade Lake, the proposed hog farm would produce approximately 9 million gallons of manure and other waste each year, which would be applied as fertilizer to nearby fields.

Similar operations elsewhere contaminated groundwater, lakes and rivers, as well as the air. This has required expensive drinking water treatment, reduced property values ​​for neighbors, the death of fish and other wildlife, and harmed human health.

There are no similar operations in the area, and local citizens, farmers and environmental groups are pushing for strict local regulation of the industry.

Knowledge is power.

About Charles Holmes

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