Update information- By Eric Rempala February 15, 2023
The town of Schoepke has passed a resolution in the past week in support of the Pelican River Forest (PRF) project. Schoepke has successfully negotiated with the Conservation Fund for land exemptions to the project. See Schoepke resolution here. Schoepke Support Resolution.pdf (dropbox.com)
The town of Pine Lake has an agenda item on their board meeting tonight February 15th to discuss the (PRF) project.
The Conservation Fund has agreed to Monico's request that property along both routes 8 and 45 be removed from the project in consideration for future development. The Conservation Fund did attend Monico's town board meeting on Monday February 13th and have committed to the town for more discussion going forward. Actually, listening to a town and taking action? Imagine that.
We at OCCWA have provided information on this subject already and hope to have more available in the coming days. We urge towns and residents to give careful consideration to all information on this subject before making a final decision. Se link below for more facts as well as contact information to the Conservation Fund and Gathering Waters.
Pelican River Forest Facts.docx (dropbox.com)
In the meantime, feel free to peruse the information we have shared previously below.
Update information- By Eric Rempala January 10, 2023
Recent coverage by WXPR's Danielle Kaeding (see link included) has revealed that there are discussions ongoing with the town of Monico and the Conservation Fund pertaining to lands the town wanted to reserve for future development. If a compromise is reached there should be no reason for Senator Felzkowski's objection to stand and we look forward to the Joint Finance Committee's decision to hold up financing being reversed. The willingness of the Conservation Fund to negotiate with Monico is encouraging for sure.
Largest land conservation effort in state history threatened as lawmakers object to funding | Wisconsin Public Radio (wpr.org)
Update information- By Eric Rempala January 4, 2023
The anonymous objector on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has been identified as State Senator Mary Felzkowski. Contact for Senator Felzkowski is (608 266-2509)
Senator Mary Felzkowski confirms Pelican River Forest vote | Local News | wjfw.com
It is the JFC's responsibility now to have a hearing and make a determination on the Pelican River Forest Project. Past instances of the Committee not addressing issues and failing to have a hearing are numerous. Hopefully the JFC will do their job and come to a final determination on this project rather than choose to not do the job which they accepted as public servants.
Please consider the Take Action link we are sharing for residents to request Governor Evers to direct the DNR to fund the Pelican River Forest Project.
Take Action – Knowles Nelson Stewardship
By Eric Rempala December 9, 2022- For those who are not familiar, The Pelican River Forest Conservation Easement is a proposed conservation easement that will protect the largest remaining unprotected private working forest in Wisconsin. What that consists of is continuing sustainable forestry and permanent public use and access to the forested woodlands. WDNR fact sheet information below.
"The Pelican River Forest Conservation Easement project represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to protect 56,000+ acres of working forestland in Wisconsin. Current owner, The Conservation Fund, is partnering with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources which will use funding from the Knowles -Nelson Stewardship Program to secure a conservation easement to protect the largest remaining unprotected private working forest in Wisconsin.
The Pelican River Forest straddles the Continental Divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. It contains 68 miles of streams and is located in the headwaters of the Wolf River and the Wisconsin River. Permanent protection will preserve the water quality of these rivers that provide drinking water to over 40,000 people downstream. It will also permanently secure public access for outdoor recreation including hiking, hunting, fishing, trapping, snowmobiling, ATVs/UTVs, and cross-country skiing.
The Pelican River Forest contains hard maple, oak, aspen, spruce, red pine, and jack pine. The Forest grows about 25,000 cords of harvestable volume each year for an estimated annual value of $1.1M. Accounting for 16% of Oneida County’s timber output from private forestland it helps supply 17 mills in Oneida and adjacent counties which support 636 jobs. Additionally, the project guarantees permanent public use and access to the forested woodlands. This includes vehicular access to over 40 miles of maintained interior roads and will be supported by a $1M perpetual road endowment fund for long-term maintenance.
The acquisition will be financed with a combination of funds including a $600,000 gift from The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a federal Forest Legacy Program grant in the amount of $10,884,000 and the remaining $4,028,000 from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program."
As you can see from the DNR fact sheet, financing this forest consists of a $600,000 gift from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $10.88 million form a federal Forest Legacy Program grant, and $4.03 million from our own Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
Thank you very much, the DNR Natural Resources Board appreciates your generous gift and approves of the acquisition. See link below
Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approves largest land conservation effort in state history – Knowles Nelson Stewardship
But hold on now. All that is left is for the Wisconsin State Legislature's Joint Finance Committe (JFC) to approve of the Knowles-Nelson funds being used as they were intended. But that's where this story goes off the rails. All it takes is one member of the JFC to anonymously object without giving a reason and this 70,000-acre forest ceases to exist and that's exactly what has happened. Clearly this is a process that is not transparent or democratic. Does anyone vote for a politician thinking they should have this anonymous power? Of course not.
So, what's the solution? Well, Team Knowles Nelson just so happens to have a Take Action page online that allows Wisconsin residents to easily send an objection to the JFC and vote to support the Pelican River Forest. Link provided. Conservation project sabotaged by anonymous legislator – Knowles Nelson Stewardship
We at OCCWA urge you to consider the facts of the JFC process as it applies to environmental issues such as this and voice your opinion.
. More informational links on the Pelican River Forest provided below.
Large Wisconsin forest purchased for conservation | Forest… (forestdatanetwork.com)
Pelican River Forest – Wisconsin | The Conservation Fund
By Eric Rempala March 7, 2023- Oneida County Board Chairman Scott Holewinski selected the members of the Pelican River Forest (PRF) Committee. The five-member panel consists of designated Committee Charman Robert Briggs as well as Supervisors Jim Winkler, Bob Almekinder, Tommy Ryden, and Jim Roach.
As far as the assignments go, Mr. Winkler, Almekinder, and Ryden all being members of either the Forestry Land and Recreation Committee or the Conservation and UW EX Education (CUW) Committee or both makes sense.
So, the first question becomes Mr. Briggs being Chairman in charge of a committee investigating whether a resolution he submitted is accurate and free of misleading information. Yes Mr. Briggs' towns were the most affected and he is a member of the Forestry Land and Recreation so being assigned as a member makes some sense, but maybe not chairman.
The second question becomes Mr. Roach who was the most vocal in supporting and promoting a vote on Mr. Briggs resolution not only with just a four-day notification period but also despite multiple questions on the accuracy of said resolution. Other member options from the CUW committee would have been Supervisors Sorgel, Thome, or Newman. In either case the committee is set, and we hope for an effective investigation as many concerned parties will be watching.
The first PRF Committee meeting was held on Monday March the 6th, where once again a large number of public comments were made in favor of the PRF project and opposing Mr. Briggs resolution. Mr. Briggs then proceeded to divvy up different parts of his resolution among the committee members for them to research the accuracy of their assigned parts of the resolution.
The next meeting date for the committee was set for April 3rd where hopefully results of the members assignments will be available and a more accurate resolution can be discussed.
Another PRF discussion will take place at the Conservation and UW Extension Education Committee meeting. Scheduled for Monday March 13th. You may attend in person or by Zoom. Public comment is included in the agenda. Come on out and speak up! Link to agenda provided below.
WXPR coverage of March 6th PRF committee meeting provided below.
Oneida County Pelican River Forest committee holds first meeting | WXPR
January 20, 2023-
OCCWA attended the January19th Stella town hall meeting with the DNR. We hope to have an update shortly. We are sharing the current DNR news release dated January 20, 2023, below for the convenience of those who may be affected.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 20, 2023
Contact: DNR Office of Communications
Editor's Note: The mailing address listed to send alternative water supply agreements was incorrect in the previous release. It has been corrected below.
MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Health Services (DHS) and Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) are taking steps to provide temporary safe drinking water to residents with private wells who are impacted by per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the Town of Stella in Oneida County.
DHS, in cooperation with the DNR, has issued well-specific drinking water advisories for 24 residences in the Town of Stella due to elevated levels of PFAS in their private drinking water wells.
The DNR and DHS are participating in a meeting with town leadership and residents tonight, Jan. 19, at the Town of Stella town hall to provide updates about the PFAS contamination found in some private wells and information about how those residents can access temporary safe drinking water provided by the DNR.
The state is taking the following steps to assist residents with known PFAS contamination in their private drinking water supply access safe water:
To request a temporary alternative water supply from the DNR, please complete an agreement and email it to DNRStellaPFAS@wisconsin.gov or mail it to:
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
c/o Gwen Saliares
625 East County Road Y, STE. 700
Oshkosh, WI 54901
When completing the agreement, residents should indicate if they need a bottom-loading dispenser. Bottom-loading dispensers are generally provided to those who are unable to lift 5-gallon jugs.
Eligible residents who are currently paying for their own bottled-water service should also complete and submit an agreement so the DNR can take over coordination and payments of their service.
Voluntary Sampling of Additional Private Water Supply Wells
The DNR and DHS are evaluating the available information – including existing private sampling results – to develop a sampling plan for additional private water supply wells.
Private well owners are responsible for testing and maintaining their well. Unlike public water systems, private well owners are not required to regularly test their wells or correct water-quality problems. It is the well owner’s choice to decide which test to do and actions to take.
Background Information On PFAS
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These contaminants have made their way into the environment through accidental spills of PFAS-containing materials, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants and certain types of firefighting foams.
PFAS do not break down in the environment and have been discovered at concentrations of concern in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. These chemicals are known to accumulate in the human body, posing several risks to human health including certain cancers, liver damage and decreased fertility. Information about PFAS can also be found on the DNR’s PFAS webpage and on the Wisconsin DHS website.
More information about the current PFAS contamination in the Town of Stella can be found on the Town of Stella website and the DNR website. For email updates on this situation, subscribe to the PFAS Contamination in the Town of Stella topic.
Below is earlier WXPR coverage of Town of Stella PFAS testing
Private well testing in eastern Oneida County reveals extreme levels of PFAS contamination | WXPR
By Eric Rempala January 16, 2023- Yes, yes, what next? As Oneida County reels from a recent PFAS discovery a WXPR piece reveals rising levels of salt in local lakes. What is encouraging is that levels are not so high yet to cause declines in macroinvertebrates and zooplankton which are the bottom of the food chain supporting fish populations.
A recent WXPR article by Katie Thoreson covers this issue in more detail. Rising chloride levels in Lake Julia spur action by Lake Association members to reduce salt use in the area | WXPR
I would like to commend both Sue and Bob Thome as well as the Lake Julia Lake Association for their efforts to bring this issue to the forefront. It is these types of actions from local residents that help protect our water. Let's hope going forward a proactive and effective approach will be implemented.
By Eric Rempala
March 18, 2022- A recent attempt to change the Knowles Nelson Stewardship has caught our attention here at OCCWA. Assembly Bill 852 presented by Calvin Callahan and Senate Bill 802 presented by Mary Felzkowski on January 18th proposed changes that would make it easier to sell land acquired with Knowles Nelson funding. The Bills were quickly contested by multiple conservation groups and private citizen comments and drawn back for reconsideration. If not for this immediate push back these Bills may have proceeded to vote.
What is Knowles Nelson? A direct quote from their webpage " The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is one of Wisconsin’s proudest achievements. Since 1989, Wisconsinites have come together to care for our state’s land and water as well as build the trails, campgrounds, and boat launches that allow us to get out and enjoy Wisconsin. Knowles-Nelson is a rare bipartisan success story. It is an invaluable program that will continue to thrive only with a strong community of supporters who ensure that Wisconsin’s legislators continue to prioritize protected land, clean water, and access to outdoor recreation for every Wisconsin resident."
We in Oneida County have benefitted greatly from the Knowles Nelson program. Since inception Oneida County has had 88 projects supported with a dollar amount of just under $42 million. Projects consisting of land maintenance, trail construction, and upkeep, to land acquisition. Notable areas include Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area, American Legion State Forest, Northern Highland State Forest, and Bearskin State Trail. Here is a link to a Knowles Nelson project map. https://knowlesnelson.org
Even the most recently proposed Pelican River State Forest is set to receive funding from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship. https://www.conservationfund.org/impact/press-releases/2589-largest-unprotected-forest-in-wisconsin-secured So one wonders what exactly these two recently proposed Bills by two of our county's state reps is truly trying to accomplish and does it reflect the will of their constituents? We will continue to monitor the situation and help to keep you apprised going forward, though not much is expected now until next year.
Below is a link to an article on the attempted Bill proposals
By Eric Rempala Nov 29,2022
- The Oneida County P&D committee continues to go down the path of deconstructing Shoreland Protections. As covered by a recent OCCWA post written by Dan Butkus dated September 22nd and now updating today.
We at OCCWA stand with Mr. Butkus and now the OCLRA (statement below) in urging the P&D committee to reverse course and leave current Shoreland Protections in place. Both Mr. Butkus and the members of the OCLRA have much experience in protecting lake shores. We recommend contacting the committee (link provided) in voicing your concerns and supporting not stripping Shoreland Protection. Planning & Development – Oneida County, WI
Here is the recent release by OCLRA voicing multiple concerns about changes that the P&D committee are considering. Below is OCLRA's statement.
The day likely will soon come for OCLRA and lake advocates to stand up and be counted on protection of our vital lake shorelands. Revisions to the Oneida County Shoreland Protection Ordinance are now being considered by the Planning and Development Committee. Of most concern, the revision would eliminate the requirement for a Shoreyard Alteration Permit for structures such as stairways, walkways and lifts for access to the shoreline, if located on or over steep slopes or rocky, saturated or unstable soils. In addition, the current draft includes no Shoreyard Alteration Permit requirement to install an access and viewing corridor without the building of a new of a structure – that is, just for landscaping. Because the state regulates the access and viewing corridor and thus the county ordinance must include it, OCLRA believes a permit should be required to remove trees, shrubs and other vegetation to create that corridor.
The Shoreyard Alteration Permit is being incorporated, incompletely, into the building permits for the various structures regulated in the rest of the ordinance. Also deleted are minimum requirements (avoidance of environmentally sensitive areas, protection of native ground cover, erosion controls during grading or excavating, and others) needed to maintain or improve the beauty and environmental stability of the area and the adjoining waters. Procedures for inspections before issuance of a shoreland alteration permit, during construction and after completion are also removed.
These items may appear merely technical; however, it is the opinion of OCLRA representatives, after careful study, that these changes remove important levels of protection for some of the most sensitive sites around our lakes and could open the door to substantial degradation of natural shoreline habitats, lake water quality, and aquatic ecosystem integrity. We believe that without the Shoreyard Alteration Permit as an enforcement tool for the Planning and Zoning Department, enforcement of certain shoreland protections would be almost impossible. OCLRA will provide updates as these proposed changes go through committee deliberations. In the meantime, you can review the proposed changes to the Shoreland Protection Ordinance in detail by visiting https://www.oclra.org. "
I hope that sharing this information is helpful to residents of Oneida County. Protecting one's water should not be an exercise in competition but should be an exercise in cooperation. With multiple groups working together with residents and elected officials our ability to protect our water quality is strengthened.
By Eric Rempala
"At the January 21, 2022 CUW Special Manure Storage Ordinance (MSO) Committee meeting, a motion was made by Roach, seconded by Winkler to postpone the Manure Storage Ordinance until such time as operations exceeding 200 animal units comes into Oneida County with an animal unit equaling 1000 lbs. of live animal weight. Roll call vote: Winkler-aye, Mott-aye, Thome-aye, Engel-aye, Roach-aye, Ives- aye. Motion carried."
The above information is a direct statement from the Oneida County Land and Water Conservation. Included is a link to OCLW with a video of the meeting from which the statement originated from. Special thanks to the OCLW staff for their assistance.
Though disappointed that there was not a motion to forward the proposed Manure Storage Ordinance to the County Board, the decision to postpone was a good one. Postponement was a compromise by the committee as Supervisors Thome and Mott were in favor of the ordinance and Supervisors Winkler, Engel, Roach' and Ives were in favor of table/kill. The decision to postpone keeps the proposed ordinance active and on the books for possible reconsideration at such time as operations exceeding 200 animal units comes into Oneida County. This along with an extension on the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) moratorium until September 2022 gives hope that Oneida County will be able to protect itself from such largescale farming operations.
The MSO committee did an excellent job cobbling together an ordinance which gives the county the ability to protect itself from such large CAFO operations without adding any additional restrictions to our current farms. It's important to note that the ability to oversee CAFO operations is the main objective of the ordinance. Also, the committee including the ability to revisit the ordinance yearly is a novel approach to updating the ordinance as actual application impacts are considered.
If this type of environmental legislation along with mining and PFAS issues are important to you, then you should consider asking for your County Supervisor candidate's positions on these issues for the upcoming April elections. It is squarely upon the residents and property owners of Oneida County to hold their Supervisors accountable when it comes to protecting our waters. Below are links for current Supervisors and Supervisor candidates for April 5 2022 election.
Current Oneida County Supervisor link https://www.co.oneida.wi.us/government/cb/
Current Oneida County Supervisor Candidates for April 5 Election
By Eric Rempala
Jan. 15, 2022--Oneida County held a public hearing on Jan. 5 to address a proposed Manure Storage Ordinance. View the meeting here: Manure Storage - Oneida County Land and Water Conservation (oclw.org) Currently, while Oneida County has a moratorium on CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), it is one of only 10 Wisconsin counties that does not have a Manure Storage Ordinance. The proposed ordinance would go a long way in providing local protection to these particular animal operations.
We have seen multiple counties with weak local protections deal with the impacts of CAFOs. We applaud Oneida County for their foresight on this issue. Problems that can occur with CAFO operations are, but not limited to, the following:
Monitoring these issues and permitting CAFOs currently falls to the DNR. The DNR is greatly understaffed and underfunded when it comes to this issue. A local ordinance would provide Oneida County with a tool for oversight when necessary. More information on what CAFO oversight means and who pays for it can be found here.
Below is a public comment from Jan. 5 meeting made by Dan Butkus, an Oneida County property owner and water advocate. We feel Dan's comments represent an even-handed approach to protecting Oneida County's water resources, providing another set of eyes on animal operations that can help prevent degradation of our valuable waters.
Public Hearing statement by Dan Butkus
I appreciate the opportunity to make a public comment in support of the proposed Manure Storage Ordinance.
It was hard work to create the ordinance, but I believe it was well worth it. The sole goal was to produce a good ordinance and try to accommodate the concerns of all parties, because that’s what ordinances are for: managing disparate interests over shared use of a resource in the most equitable way possible.
Does everyone get everything they want? No. Compromise is not a dirty word. Those involved tried to find middle ground between farms of all types and residents/visitors who live on or use Oneida County waters for recreation. Both groups contribute to the tax base in this county. Both impact the surface waters of the county through their separate use, in their own way. One does not get to exist at the expense of another.
I believe the draft ordinance represents good work by a group of people who understand the balance of the interested parties. There was give and take all the way around. Additional input was seriously considered. I believe this proposed ordinance is better than many in agriculture-rich counties.
I’ve heard it said that we don’t need an ordinance, there are no CAFOs in Oneida County. I’ve heard that this will hurt small farms. I’ve heard that most small farms already comply with good practices and it’s unnecessary. To those comments, my replies are these. Implementing an ordinance after a CAFO is established is too late. This is a preventative measure. I’ve not seen solid data from the small farms showing how this ordinance will hurt them financially, or how it will negatively impact their day to day operations.
And to the last point, consider this. It is not the farms that follow good practices that worry me. It’s the one or two that don’t. If what they say is true and most are already following good practices, then this ordinance does not affect most small farms. In most cases, small operations won’t be required to obtain a permit. All that is being asked of small farms is that they all use the same guidelines of good practices by keeping manure stacks away from areas that endanger surface and ground water and minimize runoff by standardizing setbacks. If these are the good practices that they claim they are already following, then where is the issue with the ordinance, really?
Lastly, I’d like us to consider that of the 72 counties in Wisconsin, 62 have a Manure Storage Ordinance. Of the 10 that do not, six are in North Central Wisconsin, the area which is most rich with inland lakes in our state: Price, Iron, Vilas, Forest, Florence, and of course Oneida. I think that if counties with more agriculture than Oneida County found it wise to pass a Manure Storage Ordinance, and managed to overcome threading the needle of shared use to accommodate all parties, including small farms, then Oneida County can as well. We only need to follow their lead. I support the manure storage ordinance. Thank you.
The current ordinance proposal is just that: a proposal and yet to be presented to the Oneida County Board for a vote. We at OCCWA recommend residents to monitor this issue and give comment when the public listening session on this ordinance is held. Also, we urge you to give input to your district county supervisor, who will be voting on this issue. You can find your supervisor here.
By Eric Rempala
September 30 2022- Wisconsin's Green Fire has released a detailed and important policy assessment report on how the legislature, courts and special interests have re-shaped state government in recent years as a tool that benefits special interests and disempowers state agencies and the public on environmental policies.
We at OCCWA have opined in the past that Wisconsin's State Legislature has taken action to strip away local control. We feel it is imperative to return more environmental decision making to the local citizens and towns directly impacted by projects which put their water at risk. This report by Wisconsin's Green Fire documents in great detail how the loss of local control was accomplished. We hope that this report assists in providing information and a path to restore that which has been taken. Below are excerpts from the report of some of these actions.
" * 2011 Wisconsin Act 21, which gave significant new powers to the legislature and limited agency authority in reviewing and approving new administrative rules.
* 2017 Wisconsin Act 57, which further limited agencies’ ability to develop administrative rules by establishing lower thresholds for economic impact analysis and allowing legislative committees to block rules for indefinite periods of time.
* 2017 Wisconsin Act 39, which created a 30-month deadline for development of new administrative rules and nullified all work on any rules not completed in that time frame.
* A series of legislative changes between 2011 and 2018 removed local control from communities, preventing them from developing locally-based standards for environmental protection.
* Coordinated efforts between Wisconsin Senate leadership and appointees of Gov. Scott Walker’s administration to prevent Governor Tony Evers from seating appointees, including seats on the Natural Resources Board. "
We are providing links below of Green Fire's press release and detailed report.
Wisconsin’s Green Fire Releases Opportunities Now Report “Imbalance of Power – How Wisconsin is Failing Citizens in Conserving Natural Resources and Protecting our Environment” - Wisconsin’s Green Fire (wigreenfire.org)
Oneida County Clean Waters Action
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