I recently read a well-researched local news article on the 15+ Kewaunee County CAFOs, (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, 700+ cows), publicizing the divided community and the upcoming court battle. Born and raised in Casco, and knowing the individuals involved, I decided to attend a day long court hearing in Green Bay placing the Kinnard Farms, Inc. CAFO owned by Lee and Rod Kinnard against five family petitioners from the Lincoln Township and their over 100 Kewaunee County supporters.
I know the Kinnards as a highly respected family, as innovative farmers. As a young boy, I often traveled to the, then small, Kinnard farm with my Dad, the Casco High School Ag teacher. Rod Kinnard was one of his prized students. Fast forward 50 years, the DNR has recently permitted the Kinnard CAFO to now house over 6,000 cows and construct a 23 acre waste storage facility. Meanwhile, half of the Lincoln Township wells have tested unsafe.
I entered the courtroom with an open mind. We need to protect our ground water along with encouraging a viable farming community. With communication, I believe we can do both.
As I sat through more than six hours of riveting, sworn testimony from both sides, I saw the documentation of polluted waterways. I heard the heart-wrenching stories from parents with sick kids who cannot drink their water. I listened to property owners with plummeting home values, and town officials frustrated with inadequate jurisdiction to deal with the problems. Most concerning, were reports of unresponsive DNR officials who would not even look at citizen's evidence. The petitioners attribute the groundwater pollution to the manure spreading from over 11,000 cows now in the Lincoln Township. I also heard how the Kinnard family tries to be good stewards of the land and heard from business owners, including veterinarians, who rely on local CAFOs for their livelihood.
I did hear three areas of agreement: The complete lack of up-to-date state policies ensuring a balance between water protection and CAFO expansions; the new DNR, understaffed by budget cuts and possibly being used as a political pawn, that has little ability to monitor and enforce outdated regulations; and lastly, the Lincoln Town residents, including the Kinnards, who comprise a passionate, but now divided community who truly want to go back to living in harmony.
The message I heard the loudest, from both sides, emphasized a clear lack of leadership by our elected state officials. This dispute should not have reached the point where a community is divided, possibly beyond repair. With proactive state legislation providing clear regulations, supportive inspections of CAFO farms and an adequately staffed and responsive DNR, we could protect our water and provide safe growth for our businesses. Without clean water, Door, Brown and Kewaunee Counties will have no tourism, decreasing property values and unhealthy communities. Our elected officials should be working to bring people together to solve problems. Unfortunately, what we now have is more polarized division. This is just not the Wisconsin way. With effective leadership, together, we could make this better.
Joe Majeski, Jacksonport