Neighbors of the worst kind…

Leave a comment

When they bought the 18 acres just outside of Grand Marsh, Wis., Wayne Baesemann and his wife Nicole were looking forward to quiet summer nights, horseback rides and the occasional backyard barbeque with friends. Rural life at its finest.

What they have now isn’t even close.

“We were in our early thirties,” Baesemann recalls wistfully. “We wanted a place in the country where we could have horses and like that. Beautiful. Nice small Grand Marsh. Then this place comes here, and I just want to get out.”

The place Baesemann refers to is the New Chester Dairy, a sprawling factory farm that brought him 4,300 uninvited new neighbors, each with four legs, bad social skills and atrocious bathroom habits. The quiet nights have given way to the incessant rumble of trucks streaming past their front door, and way too many evenings with friends have been canceled by the overwhelming odor of thousands of gallons of liquid cow manure.

Baesemann makes his living as a farrier. He’s a man surrounded by horseshoes, but his luck turned in 2010 when Milk Source Holdings, Inc. submitted the paperwork to build a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation a quarter of a mile from his driveway and about a mile from the local grade school. The CAFO breezed through the permitting process, and the next thing Baesmann knew, his country paradise had turned into a hell of stench and traffic.

“Basically, it destroyed our quality of living,” he said. “In the summertime we used to have quite a few people on the weekends and have fires and things like that. Now you go outside, and the smell just burns your nose. My wife’s pretty sensitive with allergies, and it’s turned her inside out.

“People say to us, ‘Well, you live in Wisconsin,’ and I say to them, ‘You don’t understand.’ The ammonia smell gets so strong some days, it’s like a sewage plant, not a dairy farm. Every night in the summer between 7 and 8 o’clock, it sinks in, and you get nailed by the smell. When they first started up, my son and I were back in the woods where we’ve got this little campground. We were having a bonfire, and we had to come in because we couldn’t handle the smell.”

As hard as the factory is on peoples’ noses, it can be even worse on their ears. Baesemann said he has a neighbor who spent an hour one afternoon timing the trucks hauling manure past his place and clocked one every 30 to 45 seconds. Another neighbor told him that he counted 250 manure trucks rolling by in a single day. He called it “insane.” It’s also unsafe.

“You used to see kids run through Grand Marsh going to their school to play on the playground or just moving around town,” he said. “You don’t see that now. I wouldn’t send my kid out on this road with all these trucks.

“ They go right through downtown Grand Marsh, and they just fly through there. The speed limit was 35 mph, but when enough people complained they dropped it to 25. But it seems like they go through there at 40 or 50. They don’t care. We can always tell if a squad car is sitting in town, because they’re driving slower. We know without seeing the cop that he’s there.”

They’d also know without seeing the trucks that they’re there. The noise starts early and stays late.

“The semis are running from sun-up to sundown,” Baesemann said. “When they’re hauling manure it’s nonstop for two or three weeks. One big problem is the trucks have these huge turf tires on them. You hear them from miles away, and every one of them goes right past our house.

“That’s another aspect of it. If you pull out of your driveway, you can be stuck behind one of those trucks for miles, and now the smell is in your car. You get stuck behind them constantly. There’s no way around them.”

Baesemann visited the factory about a year and a half ago to complain about the noise and was told that the potato trucks that have always run in the area were noisier than the semis. Even if that were true – and he knows it isn’t — he points out that the potato haulers don’t go all summer long. “I told him I knew about the potato trucks when I bought the house,” he said “You guys weren’t here then, and I wouldn’t have bought it if I’d known you would be.”

None  of which is making his property more saleable. Baesemann says while the dairy claimed that building there would ease the local tax burden, his real estate taxes haven’t gone down since the CAFO moved in. What’s it done to his property value?

“I haven’t checked it out yet,” he said. “I’m kind of afraid to find out. I’m in transition here with my business. I want to move a little further east for that, and to get the hell away from these guys.”

Next: dealing with the diary.



Can we soar once again like an Eagle?

Leave a comment

Can our water supply stage a comeback like the eagle?

With the Central Sands area firmly in the grasp of winter, we have been seeing the usual congregation of wildlife around water and food sources. But one species we have been blessed to see is our national bird, the bald eagle. On my commute to work the past several days, I have been thrilled to see three immature eagles feeding on a deer carcass right along the road. Anyone traveling near the open waters of the Wisconsin River is likely to spot some of these birds this time of year.

We have not always been so fortunate. People my age can remember being young and maybe being lucky enough to see one eagle up north. There just weren’t many around. In fact, in the early 1960s, it was estimated there were only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles left in the U.S. The birds had lost the ability to hatch their young due to the pesticide called DDT affecting the eggs.

I see a parallel to the eagles’ plight 50 years ago to the threats we face with our water supply this very moment in Wisconsin.

I have lived in the Central Sands area for 25 years and have been blessed to enjoy the many lakes and recreational streams in the area. Over the years I have watched many of them shrink in size, and some actually dry up. During the same period I have seen the number of irrigation systems and high-capacity wells grow tremendously.

Nowadays, when I excitedly point out bald eagles to my young daughter, she loves seeing them, but just can’t appreciate how special it is, because they have always been there for her generation. I have to explain the way it was, and how we must never take nature for granted, as it is a fragile thing.

Unfortunately, she also is used to seeing low lakes, and irrigation pivots are just part of the landscape. To her, this is normal. Only by pointing to old tree lines and exposed boat landings around lakes am I able to show her how things used to be.

Following World War II, DDT was heralded as a new pesticide to kill mosquitos and other insects. Liberal use for agricultural needs resulted in DDT entering the food chain where it was passed along until it ultimately ended up in the Eagles. It took a lot of time and pressure to bring the issue to people’s attention. The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson did much to bring awareness to the issue in 1962, although she was roundly criticized by many for writing it.

She was questioning the use of one of agriculture’s most valuable tools, and it was not well received. Even with the Secretary of the Interior putting the eagle under the protection of the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966, it was not until 1972 that the EPA finally banned the use of DDT.

Thus began the long road back for the bald eagle. As the DDT was flushed from the ecosystem, these birds again began to successfully reproduce, and they returned from the brink. Today it is estimated there are 9,789 nesting pairs in the lower 48 States.

Like the use of DDT, the use of irrigation is an important tool for agriculture. The proliferation of wells in the Central Sands area has to be seen to be believed. The disappearance of our lakes is eerily similar to the plight of the eagle. And like the time of Silent Spring, there are studies and groups trying to raise awareness around the issue of groundwater. And again like DDT, not everyone is happy about the news, or willing to acknowledge that there needs to be a change. I wonder how long it will take for people to come to grips with the need for a better solution. How bad does it need to get?

Unlike the government stepping in to help save the eagle, our current state government seems willing to ignore science and continue to permit an unlimited number of wells. Only through private legal action taken by conservation groups – groups such as Friends of the Central Sands, Family Farm Defenders and others — does there seem to be any effort to slow the tide.

Can we start the road to recovery like the eagle? For our children and grandchildren, we must try.