Kewaunee County Has Right To Be Angry Over Paltry DOJ Settlement Of Corporate Farm Improperly Spreading Manure

Jars of water from Kewaunee County home tap where researchers tied manure from nearby farm fields to the polluted water. Courtesy of Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Department

The news on the surface seems to suggest the State of Wisconsin prevailed with justice by taking a firm stand on behalf of the residents who were negatively impacted in Kewaunee County, where cattle outnumber people nearly 5 to 1. In 2017 up to 60 percent of sampled wells in a Kewaunee County study contained fecal microbes, many of which are capable of making people and calves sick. So it might seem needless to say for those who have endured polluted and colored drinking water for many years, the meager $215,000 settlement of ‘pollution allegations’ by Kinnard Farms rings harsh and hollow. While one can rightly approve of the determination shown by the Department of Justice to challenge the wrongdoing of this corporate farm the final financial outcome is a sad joke.

The Legislature’s finance committee is scheduled to approve the deal this week, and the press is reporting this small fine will settle allegations that Kinnard Farms improperly spread manure in Kewaunee and Door counties between 2018 and 2022.  The settlement also calls for Kinnard Farms to upgrade two waste storage facilities and a feed storage area.

If you have not heard of Kinnard Farms it is not due to their name being absent on the lips of Kewaunee residents. For years one of Wisconsin’s largest dairy operations in the northeastern region of the state, with 16 industrial farms, has created agricultural pollution where testing has proven outrageous levels of contaminants in residents’ private drinking water wells. Contaminants that match fecal matter in farm fields with tap water pollution. How many ways can one say yuck?

In 2021, the state allowed a permit to Kinnard Farms that required the business to monitor at least two sites where it applies manure to the land as fertilizer, with at least three wells per site. The sites selected must have a shallow depth to the bedrock, where the groundwater resides. The business, of course, and as one might imagine contends the testing regime is too expensive.  As such, they are suing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. There is enough money to hire a law firm in Madison but not enough to test and keep local residents safe from contaminants in the drinking water.

We all take for granted the clarity of our tap water and the safety of drinking it, brushing our teeth, and using it for cooking and showering.  But our fellow citizens in Kewaunee County when turning on the tap are aware that pollution issues are front and center due to manure having been applied during spring, summer, and fall on area land.  As their local students are taught in science classes, their topsoil is a relatively short distance from the groundwater in the area, due to its unique hydrogeology. This is the basic understanding as to why many taxpayers can show bottles of dirty water taken from the kitchen tap.  Who can blame that county for raising holy heck about what has been done all in the name of a corporate farm making huge sums of money?

I noted a WPR news story during the Covid pandemic when most people were taking steps to stay clear of the virus, where it was reported hundreds of people in Kewaunee County were falling ill at home just from their drinking water.

The study predicts cow manure causes 230 cases of acute gastrointestinal illnesses in the county per year, out of 301 total cases of sickness — with an additional 12 cases caused by human waste from septic systems. The contaminant is unknown for the other instances, the authors wrote.

The reason I am animated over this issue is that research is showing that even what was considered a solution to the harm done by Kinnard Farms may not be enough for the safety needs of the citizenry.

Private homeowners in that situation may be eligible for a well compensation program that provides money for filling and sealing old wells, drilling and constructing a new well or installing a treatment system. If they have E. coli in their well, Peninsula Pride Farms Water Well program also offers help.

But Borchardt’s research shows a new or deeper well does not necessarily provide protection.

Tenacity and resolve are traits from the Justice Department that I always find welcoming, but there is no glee to be found with this weak and anemic $215,000 settlement for a corporate farm that has done so much environmental harm. No real justice can be summed up with a $215,000 settlement. Severe lax state regulations regarding agricultural practices allowed people to bring dirty bottled water to the statehouse and place it on my desk and ask for a resolution in the 1990s. They had a right to be angry then. They have even more reason for anger now.

Campaign For Wisconsin Governor Must Address Labor Shortage, Need For Immigrant Labor

With the campaign for Wisconsin governor moving in full steam towards the November election voters are being offered an array of pretty much the same fare as past fall races.  This year there is alpha-male posing from Republican nominee Tim Michels while Tony Evers unveils a cheesy tax cut. Voters know aggressive masculinity does not equate to good governance, and that our transportation budget needs state funds far more than individuals do with an extra couple hundred bucks in their wallet.

Yes, we are now in that time when candidates will say and do anything for a point bump in the polls or a series of favorable headlines.  I understand the need to press all the buttons and make every effort to prevail at the polls, but there must also be a real conversation with the electorate about issues that matter.  One of those topics is something I have talked about for at least 20 years.  Count the number of graduates leaving high school in May and then count the new faces entering kindergarten in September.  We have a genuine worker shortage, in every business sector and in every region around the Badger State.

On Sunday Tom Still, who I believe should be in the kitchen cabinet for whoever wins the governorship, stated most clearly why there is a need to focus on our state’s worker shortage.

Economists and demographers in Wisconsin have been warning for decades that a shortage of workforce-age people was inevitable. The St. Louis-based research arm of the Federal Reserve reports Wisconsin’s “labor force participation” rate declined from 74.5% in late 1997 to 66.4% in June 2022. That rate reflects the number of all employed and unemployed workers divided against the state’s civilian population.

Stills also noted a sobering fact about the dismal rate of growth from those moving here from another state.

At a time when much of the United States is on the move, Wisconsin isn’t a leading destination. About 1.1 million people moved from one U.S. state to another in 2021, the conference was told, yet only 3,400 or so wound up in Wisconsin.

Among the various factors Still connected to the worker shortage, was the fact our state will need to view immigration in a different light if we are to meet the economic needs we face. Nine years ago, in 2013, he wrote a column about immigrant workers in the Badger State.

Immigration reform can help the Wisconsin economy at a time when the demographics of an aging society are chipping away at the state’s workforce, from its kitchens, farms and resorts to its research laboratories and tech companies.

In a global economy, Wisconsin looks much less international than even its neighbors. Compared to Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, Wisconsin has a smaller share of foreign-born population and total labor force, as well as fewer foreign-born business owners.

During the primary season, there were countless television ads by Michels where “illegals” were mentioned. We learned that he aligned with Donald Trump concerning a wall at the Southern border. He ground down with campaign rhetoric about “no drivers’ licenses, no benefits, and no tuition” for immigrants.

We too often hear conservative pols use dehumanizing language regarding immigrants.  Over the past years, we have had too many truly sad examples of political discourse that was xenophobic and racist. The facts are of course that immigrants are human beings in search of a better life, fair wages, safety, and security.  Additionally, we know that Wisconsin requires their labor and skills.

While the usual theatrics of a campaign season is upon us it appears that once again the long-term problem of a shortage of workers in our state will be left behind.  Slogans and heavy rhetoric about red meat topics will not address the shortage of workers businesses confront year after year in the construction trades, farms, or on the manufacturing floors. Voters should be provided ideas by the candidates for governor about how our state deals with this pressing problem.

Walmart Correctly Stops Selling Cigarettes In Several States

One does not often find Caffeinated Politics saying anything positive about Walmart. But even here, it needs to be noted when that company promotes a positive policy.

I was delighted to learn that Walmart is no longer selling cigarettes, or soon to be no longer selling these cancer sticks, at select stores in Arkansas, California, Florida and New Mexico. As I write it could not be confirmed the number of stores to be impacted by this healthy move or the time frame in which it will occur. But this is a sign of where they are heading nationally.

I firmly believe retailers need to stop selling tobacco products, so this news from Walmart is a good sign of progress being made due to public pressure.

When I first read about this story it was noted in the newspaper that Walmart had decided to use the space more efficiently at stores no longer selling cigarettes. (I await the perfect line to place here as a suggestion.)

I come from the perspective that the nation’s largest (regrettably) retailer simply needs to set higher standards as it interacts with those who shop their stores. It is not credible to sell known cancer-causing items while on the other end the giant stores also offer pharmacy services. I get it that some of their customers would never pick up on the hypocrisy of such sales, but it is not lost on those across the nation who weighs in with a judgment call.

And those social voices are making an impact.

Just as they did when pushing Walmart–repeatedly–to stop selling tobacco products to customers under the age of 21.  Walmart correctly made the call to end those sales several years ago. The drift of young males in certain socio-economic groups to chewing tobacco has also been a growing concern. But here, too, Walmart did the right thing by no longer carrying smokeless tobacco.

Such positive news for better health and lower medical costs for those who would be likely impacted by a wide array of ailments from tobacco can not be overstated. The steps Walmart is taking–though slow and stodgy–still is a positive move in the only direction we can head.

And so it goes.

Four-Day Workweek In Offing For Americans?

During the pandemic, I have found it most interesting to follow closely certain economic news. Such as the selling price of homes in certain parts of the nation, supply-line issues, inflation, and how workers in many cases are demanding more pay and benefits.

Today, I read more about the growing movement for an idea I have long favored.

The four-day workweek.

There is no doubt, even prior to the pandemic, the stress level in the workplace combined with the lack of time to invest in personal ventures left many employees very unhappy. Not only with their jobs, but sadly, also their lives. The idea of a shorter workweek in our nation has many economists enthused as it is often noted in such work environments an increase in productivity is the result of more time with family and personal plans.

People are taking stock of their lives and the too-real awareness, in the midst of the pandemic, about a stronger sense of mortality and making use of time constructively. Hence, more workers are concluding this idea has merit.

As noted in the article..Working fewer hours per day would bring many parents’ schedules more in sync with those of their school-age children, giving parents opportunities to be more present and less exhausted during family time.

With the “Great Resignation” still in full-swing, and work-induced burnout an official occupational hazard according to the World Health Organization, a growing number of employers — and countries — are rethinking the standard 40-hour workweek. Iceland led the way in experimenting with shorter workweeks, without pay cuts, over several years. The experiment has largely been hailed as a success, with an estimated 86 percent of workers expected to adopt it.

Now Belgium has announced it will allow workers to request permission to compress their work hours into four days. Companies in North America are following suit; a coalition of U.K. companies is expected to replicate the experiment this summer. In the United States, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) has proposed a bill that would reduce all standard workweeks to 32 hours, requiring overtime pay for anyone working beyond that.

An idea whose time has come?

And so it goes.

Will Children Be Able To Sleep Next To Proposed Amazon Facility In Cottage Grove?

As I wrote last week, I am very supportive of Cottage Grove officials who are working to make sure a job-creating Amazon facility is constructed and operating within 18 months. Tonight more reporting of the proposal was covered on local news.

David Stampli also lives a few hundred feet away from the planned facility and he’s also concerned about noise pollution. “I’ve two daughters, nine and 13. (on WKOW News Thursday evening he stated on-air “they keep asking”) How are they going to be able to sleep at night? There’s going to be trucks entering this facility 24/7.”

That reminded me of another father-child ‘conversation’ that many might recall from the pages of history.

In October 1980, President Carter said in his debate with Ronald Reagan, “I asked Amy the other day what the most important issue was. She said, ‘nuclear weaponry and the control of nuclear weapons.'”


And so it goes.

Amazon Perfect For Dane County Employment Growth

Here we go again.

A great opportunity has presented itself for job growth and increased tax revenue for the Madison area and Dane County. But some naysayers are already building their soapboxes so to undermine the effort.

Headlines were made Friday that Amazon is hoping to build in Dane County one of the largest distribution centers in the country. The massive retailer that finds customers in scores of homes nationwide (at least twice a week here with Prime) has proposed a five-story, 3.4 million-square-foot facility on 145 acres near the intersection of County Highway TT and County Highway N, just north of Interstate 94, in Cottage Grove.

And the selling point for the county is that this project would employ 1,500 people. It is hoped that construction could begin this year if local officials sign off on the deal, with the facility opening about 18 months later. Approval for the project has already received preliminary approval from both the Plan Commission and Village Board.

Local news reports have underscored the economic bounce this facility would provide to the county.

The proposed Amazon project, which is taking about half of the land, could mean a full build-out of the property in 10 years and increasing the village’s tax base by $300 million to $400 million.

But reports have also let it be known that there are some residents who are not pleased with the scope of the plan.

As we enter the third year of the COVID pandemic it is more than fair to write that our county has experienced economic hardships. With the disruptions to businesses, jobs, and the bottom lines of owners and workers alike we need true signs of renewal.

Therefore, it was my hope that upon first learning of this proposed plan a united effort from the local community, to the county as a whole, would be squarely behind the idea. Agreeing that job creation, along with an enhanced tax base that is good for everybody seems more than logical.

After all, we have witnessed the destruction of jobs and livelihoods with COVID and it is in the best interests of our area to stir the pot and create some hope for the future. Is that not part of the job of elected officials? So I applaud the people who worked from the beginning to marshall this idea to a top headline in Saturday’s Wisconsin State Journal.

There will be, in addition to the people who reside closest to the proposed site, others who will reject the idea simply because it is Amazon coming to the county. While I can understand the concerns of homeowners who have invested their lives in the community where the facility will be built, I can not find any rationale for thwarting a massive job creation effort because those jobs are not the correct jobs that should be created.

The dialogue from the anti-Amazon folks forgets about the need for more employment opportunities with good-paying jobs. I would like to think–in the same manner which I watch Washington politicians–that the naysayers might try to find a way they could say yes to the plan in question. Or is the rigidity of their views about Amazon the sole determining factor?

Yeah, it takes no time to ponder that question.

I come from perhaps an old-fashioned background concerning local government. In times of turmoil and economic upheaval, there is a need to lift citizens up, show resolve at pointing to better days ahead, and marshal our governing tools to demonstrate hope for the future.

The local people governing in Cottage Grove are doing that very thing.

And they deserve applause from the entire county. After all, the ones who are unemployed or seeking stable work opportunities should have someone on their side, too.

And so it goes.

Businesses Should Be More Understanding Of Workers’ Needs

One of the running themes being heard and seen around the nation is the at-times high-minded and self-righteous phrasing of “get a job”. The millions of unemployed along with the wide array of openings have spawned a sad exercise in who can be more arrogant when it comes to labeling the unemployed.

The fact is a massive reconfiguration of the workforce is underway. It can be rightly seen in a very positive way. Following the many components to this national story can be uplifting, but as I note from Northern Wisconsin it can also be dispiriting.

What can not be dismissed is that almost tectonic shifts in the workforce are underway.

For instance, record 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August alone. As has been widely reported women are quitting their jobs at a faster pace than men. CBS News reports the biggest reason for the upheaval in the workplace can be summed up in one word.


There is empowerment being felt by workers coast to coast as they assess their lives and desires. It does make for an interesting lesson to watch play out.

For so long many politicians had refused to address the minimum wage and refused to acknowledge the need for a living wage in the county. The pandemic unleashed a series of dynamics in the work world where workers can now demand from employers better wages and benefits. And in some sectors they are getting them.

Some workers have left their jobs for better pay, while others have moved to new areas with the ability to work in a remote-friendly fashion. The other interesting aspect of the flux in the work world is the number of workers who have quit a job, and started their own business.

In the midst of all the changes underway there is, however, a nagging sore spot that continues to abound. On social media this weekend it was noted by a woman that she “Went to a bar for some lunch and as we were leaving I noticed a sign out front that said “money isn’t free” and “get a job it’s the American way”.

That did not sit so well with her, and for obvious reasons, so she did some research on the business concerning the federal relief dollars that it had received. The business in Northern Wisconsin had received $88,900. The loan was forgiven in April 2021.

I am mighty glad the federal government injected funds into the economy, assisted businesses and workers as the country waged war on the pandemic and its broad-based attack on the economy. The bar in this story had every reason to get a loan. And be grateful that the nation cared to see the survival of small mom and pop establishments.

But to assign blame for problems, as the sign strongly infers, on one villainous party, that being the so-called lazy portion of the American workforce, is simply awful.

What is not registered in the posting on that establishment is what is playing out for the first time in decades, by my recollection, where workers feel like they have options ahead of them. And with that power, they can quit a job they hated. We must simply reject the rhetoric that people are lazy and they do not wish to work.

Rather they wish to be valued as employees. paid a decent wage, and have benefits that make their lives better. Perhaps employers will need to up their game on how to keep their workers and attract new ones.

Meanwhile, the wrong-headed notion that Americans are not interested in working can be chalked off as wrong. The data proves why.

Millions of people struck out on their own and started a wide array of business ventures with 4.3 million new business applications filed in 2020 and 3.8 million so far this year.

There are many aspects to this larger story that continues to play out. I have a friend who quit his job in a large financial institution. The reason was a severe mismatch in the corporate offices thinking they could demand a return to all in-person working. He had worked there for over 25 years, took a severance package, and will now use his skills in a new pursuit.

Workers are in the driver’s seat. Businesses need to understand that fact.

And so it goes.

Shortages On Madison Store Shelves, Worldwide Economic Concerns

Perhaps it is a coping mechanism, but during the pandemic, I latched onto certain topics and followed them rather closely. (Anything that was not about people on ventilators!) Then again, I might just be a nerd and that explains why I follow up on certain topics. But really, how can anyone not find some desire to better understand the effects of swamping the shipping industry with cargo, as happened in 2020?

Regardless of the reason, I have found interest in the costs of homes, reading today that the median price of one in Californian is $800,000. The stock of available homes for sale, the construction of new ones, along with the housing bubble is a topic I enjoy hearing about from our realtor friends.

I also find my curiosity heightened by the worldwide problems with supply chains concerning a wide swath of products. When masks, disinfectant wipes, and meat products had shortages and distribution problems during the pandemic there was a desire to better understand why. In the middle of 2021, as the shortages continue, and the world is impacted, as with the lack of computer chips for new auto construction, there are many others now trying to understand the reasons, too.

WISC reported on this issue Tuesday.

Tim Metcalfe, owner of Metcalfe’s Market, has seen it too. Paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and bottles of water are once again in short supply at his Madison-based stores.

“We might not have Dasani,” Metcalfe said. “But we do have ‘Everyday Essential.’ There’s always product available. It might just be a different brand.”

Part of the problem is increased demand: Grocery sales are up about 14% nationally from this time two years ago. But it’s also the result of a supply chain issue.

With the supply shortages, comes naturally an uptick in prices.

Kurt Bauer, president of business lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that the supply chain is also causing issues because production hasn’t rebounded from the downturn caused by COVID-19.

“It takes a while for production to fill that demand, and so there’s more demand than there’s supply,” said Bauer.

Bauer said those issues are feeding into inflationary pressures, which are trickling down to consumers.

“Right now, what we’re seeing is something akin to an accident on a busy highway,” said Bauer. “There’s a bottleneck, and it takes time for traffic to resume normal flow after the accident is cleared.”

Bauer said as shortages ease, some prices could be driven down, but he said inflationary pressures “are here to stay, at least for the time being.”

The New York Times approached this topic from a worldwide perspective this week.

In the face of an enduring shortage of computer chips, Toyota announced this month that it would slash its global production of cars by 40 percent. Factories around the world are limiting operations — despite powerful demand for their wares — because they cannot buy metal parts, plastics and raw materials. Construction companies are paying more for paint, lumber and hardware, while waiting weeks and sometimes months to receive what they need.

In Britain, the National Health Service recently advised that it must delay some blood tests because of a shortage of needed gear. A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry found the worst shortages of parts in the history of the index, which started in 1977.

The Great Supply Chain Disruption is a central element of the extraordinary uncertainty that continues to frame economic prospects worldwide. If the shortages persist well into next year, that could advance rising prices on a range of commodities. As central banks from the United States to Australia debate the appropriate level of concern about inflation, they must consider a question none can answer with full confidence: Are the shortages and delays merely temporary mishaps accompanying the resumption of business, or something more insidious that could last well into next year?

The economic levers and interworking parts of a global supply network may seem dry and academic. Until the item we wish to buy at the local store or purchase overnight through Amazon is just not available.

And so it goes.