Mar 26, 2015

Citizen Attendance at Wood County Board Meeting Angers Committee Chair

Those uppity clean-water activists in central Wisconsin have really done it this time.

At a March 24 meeting of the Wood County Board of Supervisors' Spray Irrigation of Waste Ad Hoc Committee Tuesday morning, an estimated 35 to 50 citizens attended the public and open meeting.

You read this correctly: Citizens attended a County Board meeting, visibly upsetting several Board Supervisors and Wood County Supervisor and Committee Chair Ed Wagner who voiced his displeasure at public attendance.

"The chairman of a Wood County committee tasked with studying the issues raised by agricultural manure spraying was not happy about seeing a crowd at Tuesday's meeting. ... "I don't like the fact that we have the public standing in the hallway," [Supervisor and Committee Chair Ed] Wagner said before moving the meeting to the Courthouse Auditorium. "I think this is an attempt to put pressure on the committee for one point of view." (Madden, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune)

The public disagreed, saying they had a right to attend a public meeting.

"I had a chair right in front of Supervisor [Ed] Wagner (District 4-Marshfield) when he sort of grumbled, 'This was supposed to be a committee meeting not a public hearing.' This was at the time more people were showing up outside the door," said one member of the public.

The meeting was held in compliance with Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law mandating "all meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.” Wis. Stat. § 19.81(2). (Wisconsin Department of Justice) (Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council)

Had Supervisor Wagner closed the open and publicly advertised meeting, Wagner would have been in violation of Wisconsin Open Meetings Law: "Any member of a governmental body who knowingly attends a meeting of such body held in violation of this subchapter, or who, in his or her official capacity, otherwise violates this subchapter by some act or omission shall forfeit without reimbursement not less than $25 nor more than $300 for each such violation." (Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law, 919.96 Penalty)

It's not clear if discouraging the public from attending open meetings is illegal.

"I asked Ed Wagner why he seemed so angry and agitated, he said, 'I put word out I didn’t want the whole big group and everyone shows up.' I said, 'Ed, I never received this message. It is a public meeting, correct? Not one person said a word including public comment, this has not been disruptive. I came here to listen and that’s exactly what we all did.' He said in the past there has been people that have been disruptive. I do not recall this. There has been, at times, public input that apparently is not welcome. [Supervisors] Hilde Henkel (District 10)  and Donna Rozar (District 2) talked of the risks we run being exposed to pathogens going into a supermarket, walking in the grass or as a surgeon (Donna’s husband) operating on a patient with AIDS, being exposed and dying from the disease. Their philosophy is everything has risk ... manure has very little. They have missed the boat!!!," said another attending citizen, Rhonda Cain-Carrell.

The Ad Hoc Committee deals with issues associated with the pollution caused by Spray Irrigation of liquid cow manure in Wood County, site of large potato operations among other concerns.

Spray Irrigation has drawn increasing scrutiny as the pollution of air, water and land has become apparent as the practice increases in Wisconsin. (Seely, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism)

Numerous Wisconsin towns and Bayfield County (Mullen, Ashland Daily Press) have banned the practice. Ten counties in Minnesota also ban manure irrigation. (Seely)

In manure irrigation operations, "high capacity wells can pump 100,000 gallons of groundwater per day or more (with some pumping up to 1 to 2 million gallons per day)," and combine the water with cow manure, sending back liquid cow manure onto crops, mainly corn and potatoes. (Wisconsin Lakes)

Central Wisconsin has more high capacity, industrial water pumps than any other region in Wisconsin.

"Pumping is measurably lowering groundwater and surface water levels where density of high capacity wells is high. Over 3,000 high capacity wells in the Central Sands Region are threatening surface water and groundwater level," notes the John Muir Chapter of Sierra Club.

From Protect Wood County and Its Neighbors:

March 25, 2015

A Disappointing and Disastrous Meeting

The Spray Irrigation of Waste Ad Hoc Committee met at the Wood County Courthouse on Tuesday, March 24th starting at 9:00 AM.  There was some confusion regarding the starting time as it had previously been scheduled to start at 9:30 AM, but this was later changed to 9:00 AM.

The agreed upon agenda for this meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee was an open discussion among the committee members about what they had learned over the last seven months and where they were headed. There was a high level of interest in this meeting and about 33 – 50 citizens showed up by 9:30. Committee Chairman Ed Wagner was quite upset that so many citizens showed up to attend an open meeting of the county board and made a number of insulting comments about the public attendance and stated that “this was no way to run a meeting”.  Apparently Ed does not believe in the democratic process. If anything, government officials should encourage citizen attendance at public meetings, not discourage it.

No citizen spoke during the open time at the beginning of the meeting as we all felt that we would have our heads handed to us if we did.

[Supervisor] Bill Leichtnam (District 19) had communicated with Ed well in advance of this meeting to expect a lot of citizens to show up and plan to have the auditorium available. Ed had resisted this advice.  Due to the overflow crowd, Ed finally began negotiations to use the auditorium at 9:20 AM and we all adjourned to the auditorium and the meeting began again at 9:30.

Ed Wagner guided and pretty much dominated the discussion with some technical input from Shane Wucherpfennig. Whenever Bill Leichtnam tried to offer input, Ed treated him with disdain. I really expect our county board supervisors to act in a more civil manner.

Ed outlined the these main areas of concern and there was some discussion around each point:
  • Water Quality
  • Ground 
  • Surface 
  • Air Quality
  • Public Health
  • Pathogens etc.
In the end, it appears that the committee will wait for the state-sponsored final report from the Manure Irrigation Workgroup, which may appear in about six weeks. This state report will provide “best practices” and will not have any force of law. Ed Wagner will also start writing a “draft” of the committee report.

I have surmised from the various discussions that this committee will not come out with any proposed county ordinances regarding the aerial spraying of manure.  I think the best we can expect from this Ad Hoc committee is a recommendation to follow the best practices provided by the state.  

This Ad Hoc committee, under the leadership of Ed Wagner, has proved to be totally risk adverse and dysfunctional. Bill Leichtnam has done everything he could to educate and energize the committee, but met a lot of resistance along the way.

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