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Wisconsin Supreme Court Eases Way For Giant Dairy Farm In Central Wisconsin

Susan Bence
Wisconsin is home to a growing number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), including this one - Vir-Clar Farms outside of Fond Du Lac.

On Tuesday with a 5-2 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court removed a regulatory hurdle that was holding the Wysocki Family of Companies back from creating a large scale dairy.

This type of operation is commonly called a CAFO, or a concentrated animal feeding operation.

The vote comes after five years of heated debate.

The company wants to create Golden Sands Dairy just south of Wisconsin Rapids in the Town of Saratoga. The Wisconsin River flows along its western edge.

The project includes converting a 4,660-acre wooded area into irrigated fields to grow crops needed to feed the cows. Crews would dig 33 high capacity wells, most would be used for for irrigation.

Neighbors worry that the combination of pumping and manure spreading across so many acres would impact water quality.

Helen Donahue, who lives nearby, spoke against the large-scale operation at a DNR meeting back in 2016. “The Wysocki’s plan is to clear cut our currently forested area and pump 7.3 billion gallons of water annually from our aquifer. Along with the constant need to irrigate the sandy soil to grow crops, comes the need to fertilize with chemical toxins and manure irrigation. Both of which will leach rapidly into the sandy soils and groundwater and put the drinking water of 5,400 people at high risk of contamination.”

In an attempt to put a stop to the project, the Town of Saratoga changed zoning to ban agriculture on the property.

This move morphed into a legal battle, that ended up before a state appeals court. About a year ago that court denied permitting the farm.

The Wysockis then took the case to the state Supreme Court.

In January, Attorney Jordan Hemaiden addressed the justices on behalf of the Wysockis whose case was based on the zoning that was in place before the Town of Saratoga changed it: “When the Wysockis did their due diligence in this case, paid for the preparation of numerous and voluminous applications to the town, state, to the county, expended millions in doing so and ultimately submitted their building permit, all of the project land was within the unrestricted zoning district of Wood County. All of the project land was within the unrestricted zoning district of Wood County.”

Attorney Remzy Bitar, representing the Town of Saratoga, said the Wysocki proposal kept evolving and was not consistent with local long-term land use plans.  “This is managed forest land. Who would have thought that someone would drop a concentrated animal feeding operation on managed forest land?"

Yesterday’s Supreme Court vote isn’t the last hurdle the Wysocki Family of Companies must clear. The Wisconsin DNR is reviewing environmental impacts before permitting the dairy.

Opponents are continuing to strategize how to stop the project.

After Tuesday’s state Supreme Court ruling, the Wysocki company issued a press release stating its intention to work with the Saratoga community to “find compromise and solutions.”

Large dairy farms are not unique to central Wisconsin. They’re multiplying across the state. Concern runs high in Kewaunee County where CAFOs are plentiful and residents worry about impacts to their drinking water. 

In southeast Wisconsin, a family farm outside Oconomowoc hopes to expand its herd by more than 50 percent. Last week about 80 people worried about impacts on the local aquifer showed up at a DNR hearing hoping to stop the plan.

The list goes on.

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