Farmer pouring raw milk into container with dairy cows in background | Getty Images
The Kewaunee County dairy at the center of a criminal case brought this week by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) for overspreading manure on its fields and lying about it has a long history of manure spills and violation of state environmental rules, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) records show.
On Monday, the DOJ announced that it had brought charges against the owner of Carlton-based farm Wakker Dairy, Johannes Wakker; manure hauler Gregory Stodola and crop consultant Benjamin Koss.
According to the criminal complaint, Wakker needed to get rid of excess manure in late 2019 so he hired Stodola to spread the manure on his field. Stodola spread the manure on several fields, exceeding the amount allowed under Wakker’s permit to operate a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). The overspreading resulted in pollution discharges into tributaries that lead into Lake Michigan. The discharges led to E. Coli bacteria readings as much as 100 times higher than those that would close a public beach, according to a DOJ news release.
Because the amount of manure spread on Wakker’s fields exceeded his permit, Stodola created a document that underreported the amount of manure by more than 1.9 million gallons. Wakker eventually gave that document to Koss, a consultant hired to file a required manure spreading report. The complaint alleges that Koss knew the information in that document was false and further changed the numbers to “calibrate the books,” in order to give the appearance of compliance with DNR regulations.
The three men have each been charged with a felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime and a felony count of fraudulent writing, each of which carries a maximum punishment of six years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Stodola has also been charged with an added count of fraudulent writing and both he and his company have been charged with three counts of discharging pollutants into the waters of the state, which carries a penalty of up to one year in county jail and a $50,000 fine for each day of violation.
“Our environmental laws and regulations are important safeguards protecting clean water for Wisconsinites, and those who are required to report to DNR must provide accurate information,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement.
The complaint states that the DNR had been investigating the dairy for more than a dozen manure discharges between 2017 and 2020, but agency records show the operation had issues with manure management prior to the beginning of that investigation.
Twice in April of 2001, the dairy was penalized for his manure storage tank seeping into a nearby creek that resulted in a fish kill, DNR documents show. After DNR wardens were on the site on April 4, the farm was ordered to have its storage tank pumped down to prevent further leaks. Less than three weeks later, wardens were back on the farm after the overflowing storage tank resulted in 20 to 30 thousand gallons of manure flowing into Sandy Bay Creek, killing fish and flowing into Lake Michigan.
DNR records show wardens discussed citations with the local district attorney for violations of state and county ordinances over the 2001 incident.
In 2011 and 2012, the farm again had issues with manure management. In both of these incidents, manure was spilled from a truck while in transport due to a mechanical failure.
DNR records show six additional spill incidents since 2018 and in April the dairy reached a $225,000 settlement with the DOJ over more than 30 manure management related incidents.
Kewaunee County is part of a northeastern Wisconsin region in which CAFOs have become especially prevalent. The controversial factory farms have been tied to harmful effects on local drinking water across the state and in Kewaunee County, home to 16 industrial farms, testing has shown high levels of contaminants in private wells.
The county is also home to Kinnard Farms, one of the state’s largest dairy operations, which has been involved in numerous fights and court battles with the DNR over regulating runoff and manure.
When updating its permit the DNR instituted a cap of 11,369 animal units, or about 8,000 cows, which is how many the farm currently has. The agency also required Kinnard to install monitoring wells in some of its fields to better track the impact its fertilizer has on local groundwater.
Kinnard sued the DNR, arguing the cap on animals will cause it to lose money and the wells are too expensive to install.
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