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Bayfield event to address corporate hog farm

The much-debated prospect of a large-scale hog farm moving into Northwestern Wisconsin takes center stage today at the 19th annual Pie and Politics event in Bayfield.

In addition to being treated to free pie, the expected hundreds of spectators will hear from a trio of speakers warning them about the pollution risks associated with pig farming's expansion into Bayfield County.

Meanwhile, the Iowa farming corporation that's behind the effort continues to address environmental hurdles in its attempt to bring the first Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, into a county known for its orchards and smaller family farms.

Earlier this spring, Reicks View Farms was asked by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to resubmit two key proposals as it worked to secure the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that would allow it to move forward.

Reicks View Farms, of Lawler, Iowa, resubmitted the proposals in April — a 247-page nutrient management plan and a 300-plus page design proposal. The DNR had reviewed and returned the originals for being incomplete.

DNR spokeswoman Nancy Larson said it's not uncommon for the DNR to ask for resubmissions. Reicks View Farms' proposed Bayfield County operation, Badgerwood LLC, is currently in the process of delineating wetlands around its proposed 500-plus acre farmsite in the town of Eileen, near Benoit and about 8 miles southwest of Ashland. Once the wetland delineation surrounding the property is submitted, the proposal will be reviewed in earnest, Larson said.

This all would seem like the sort of diligence opponents of the farm would appreciate. But Mary Dougherty doesn't believe it offers the sort of resistance for which she and other opponents are looking. Her group, Farms Not Factories, rose in opposition to the proposed CAFO, slated to house about 25,000 piglets and hogs.

"CAFOs have an unfair regulatory advantage," said Dougherty, a Bayfield resident and mother of five who worries a factory farm would pollute the shallow waters of Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior. "The game is set up to support their business. There are hoops — a nutrient management plan that's 300 pages (sic) long at this point — but that's cost-of-doing-business-type work. They put numbers in the right spots and get a permit."

Wisconsin law does not differentiate its CAFO permitting based on proximity to specific places, such as Lake Superior.

"The permitting decision does not make geographic differences," Larson said.

Since the process began with its permit application earlier this year, Reicks View Farms has been selective in its interactions with the news media. It could not be reached for comment for this story. Regarding the permitting process, Larson said, "It's not unreasonable for this to take several months."

Meanwhile, Dougherty said she is hoping the annual turnout of several hundred people for the Pies and Politics event will further galvanize support.

"When you're involved in an environmental cause you can become fairly myopic, thinking everyone knows what a CAFO is," she said. "But we're still in the education piece of it."

Michele Merkel is one of three people scheduled to speak at the event. As co-director of Food and Water Justice — the legal arm of Food and Water Watch — in Washington, D.C., she said she's impressed that Bayfield County politicians have already taken steps to, at least, proceed with caution.

In February, the County Board approved a one-year moratorium on CAFOs, allowing a committee of commissioners and community members time to study the potential impact of allowing a CAFO. The county's planning and zoning office, too, confirmed Friday that it has yet to issue building permits for the three large barns proposed on the land.

Additionally, Wisconsin Public Radio reported in May that the federal Environmental Protection Agency will review Reicks View Farms' permitting process with the DNR, citing concerns raised by Wisconsin tribes, including the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

"Bayfield seems to have a target on its back," said Merkel, who will be joined on stage by Michigan farmer and environmentalist Lynn Henning and Sarah Lloyd, special projects coordinator for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. "We'll talk about ways folks have defeated CAFO proposals."

The EPA, Larson said, does have the authority to press the DNR in the ways state law cannot. It will review the permitting process prior to a final DNR decision.

"In the past when the EPA has disagreed with a proposed decision of ours they'll inform us and we'll take that into account and try to address that," Larson said. "The permit we issue is under state law, but also the delegated authority from the federal government."

While some observers have said Reicks View Farms' interest in expanding out of Iowa is a way to escape a fast-moving virus that's killing piglets, and others have cited Northwestern Wisconsin's cheaper farmland, Merkel posited yet another reason: proximity to Lake Superior's largest port. Merkel said she's heard mention of using the Port of Duluth-Superior to export hogs. The Chinese, in particular, she said are fueling worldwide demand for American pork.

Dougherty said she believes Pie and Politics will allow the community a chance to establish its collective priorities so that it can self-determine its future.

"The real question is what do we value in our community and how do we make that happen?" she said. "How do we engage government so it reflects what we value?"

If you go

What: Pie and Politics

Where: Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield

When: Booths open at 5 p.m. today; presentation at 6:30 p.m.

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