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Judge: State must enforce environmental protections on farm

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Dane County judge has ruled the Department of Natural Resources can’t retract a previous decision and must continue imposing environmental protections on a large dairy-farm expansion.

Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson ruled last week that Wisconsin can set limits on large dairy feedlots to protect water sources from pollution, overturning a decision of DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.

The court decision is the latest development in a dispute over Kinnard Farms’ plans to add thousands of cows to its dairy operation in Kewaunee County.

Groundwater contamination in that area has led to tension between farmers and non-farmers. A quick increase in cattle numbers has led to polluted wells, which environmentalists and others blame on  the excessive spreading of manure. Farming interests have suggested that other causes are to blame in some cases.

Markson ruled that the department must place a cap on the number of cattle the farm could keep, and require it to install equipment to monitor groundwater.

The farm owners say they might appeal the ruling.

The case dates to March 2012, when Kinnard asked for the department’s permission to expand its herd. A state administrative-law judge said that the farm could expand, but that the DNR must place a maximum limit on cows and monitoring.

Kinnard appealed the decision.

Eight months later, the state Department of Justice was asked whether the DNR actually had the authority to dictate such farm limits. DOJ officials’ attention was directed to a 2011 law that says Wisconsin agencies can’t impose requirements on parties unless that authority is spelled out in law.

The Justice Department said one day later that the department didn’t have such authority, and in September 2015, the department announced it was granting Kinnard a permit.

An attorney for Clean Wisconsin, Elizabeth Wheeler, said that the Justice Department’s attempts to limit the Department of Natural Resources’ authority aren’t grounded in law.

Markson ruled that the 2011 law must be interpreted along with others that give the department the power to control wastewater.

The department said it was reviewing the decision and consulting the Justice Department.

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