JEFFERSON — The question of whether local farmer and businessman Franz Weigand can construct a 1.37-million gallon holding tank for human septic waste on his property along State Highway 106 remains undecided after the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee referred the matter back to the Town of Sumner Board of Supervisors for further review.
The Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee held a public hearing Thursday, Sept. 19, to hear opinions on this and several other matters of concern to local citizens. Approximately two-dozen people were in the audience, several of whom spoke both in favor and in opposition to the resolution that would allow Weigand, owner of Valia Excavating & Septic Services LLC, to store waste on his farmland in order to spread it as fertilizer on his fields.
Located at W7755 Highway State Highway 106 West in the Town of Sumner, Valia is in the business of emptying local septic tanks. Currently, Weigand uses that human waste to spread atop his fields as fertilizer. In addition to running Valia, Weigand is a second-generation grain farmer.
“(Weigand) spreads the waste about seven, eight months out of any given year,” explained attorney David Westrick of the Fort Atkinson law firm Rogers & Westrick. “He would like the ability to haul year-round and keep this haulage on site, but he needs a holding tank to do that. Currently, he takes that septage to the City of Fort Atkinson during the winter months, where it is treated and comes back as concentrated cake sludge, which he uses as fertilizer.”
Westrick continued, “He spreads that on his land, typically in the spring and fall, instead of other chemicals. That would probably stop if you were to grant this tank.”
The proposed tank measures approximately 100 feet wide and long and 10 feet deep, Westrick explained, noting, “This is not the same plan that we submitted to the Town of Sumner in July, which was denied,” he said. “One of the reasons we think the original plan was denied was because there was potential for some odor with that type of setup, which was an open-air tank with no cover on it.”
The revised plan is for a partially covered tank, which Westrick said has been approved by the state Department of Natural Resources.
“This is a farming family that's trying to be innovative in how they fertilize their fields,” explained Ryan Cardinal of Cardinal Engineering in Lake Geneva, who designed the proposed tank. “They’re farmers who run a waste-hauling business on the side, and I want to point out what they’re asking to do is permitted currently under the DNR. The application of septage is intended to replace the municipal cake sludge by allowing Weigand the ability to hold all the stuff they haul in on site. They plan to continue to immediately apply hauled-in waste and only store it in this facility during wet or frozen conditions when they can't get it on the fields immediately. The tank will only be used by the applicants; there will be no outside or third-party haulers.”
He continued: “Overall, the owners are just attempting to find an innovative solution so they can operate more efficiently and economically from the small business they have in order to continue being farmers in the community.”
When the original plan for the storage tank was proposed to and denied by the Town of Sumner Board of Supervisors on July 15, it was for an open-air facility that , as previously explained, could emit noxious odors to neighboring properties. Speaking for local residents opposing construction of the tank was Town of Sumner Supervisor Rosemary Olson, who lives nearby at N1557 Joyce Road.
“We did deny it and you have the paperwork with the reasons we denied it,” Olson said. “This is a whole different presentation than what was brought to the town. Changes were made and we weren't notified. But I do know that for many, many years, the town’s been accepting all this human waste coming from Fort Atkinson that goes out to the land. People are tired of closing their windows for weeks on end so that they don't have to put up with the smell. I just feel that human waste doesn't belong in our sight.”
Olson went to express confusion over the DNR’s approval of the plan, which was changed after the town board’s meeting on July 15, but the new plan was not shared with members for review. She questioned where the issue would go after the public hearing.
Meanwhile, Joanne Armstrong Dilley of Edgerton congratulated Weigand for changing the plan, but expressed lingering concerns about the effects of spreading human waste.
“I have tried to do some research and it appears that spreading human waste is not happening in a lot of places. Lots of things can happen," she stated. "It's not just the human waste that we're getting. There are chemicals that people dump in their septic, which is then getting into the land. And I don't feel that the land is far enough away from the river. I'm also worried about our wells. My reasons for opposing are more about health issues than the smell. We can't control what someone puts in their septic system. What are we doing to that land?”
Another neighbor, Bruce Steffes of W7586 State Highway 106, said the odor is a significant issue.
“You start dumping raw sewage, food waste and everything else in this tank, I don't care what you say, it's going to stink,” he said. “I'm a pretty major taxpayer in the Town of Sumner. I realize the waste has got to go somewhere, I get it. They spread it all summer long. No problem. They dump it on their fields; there’s nothing I can do about it. They have the permits for it, but at least through the winter, it goes to the city, where it gets treated properly and is under all kinds of regulations so that when it comes back out and gets spread, it’s safe. We've got a month there in the spring where they spread it and we deal with that. I live in the country and if they said they were going to put on a 500-head dairy out there, I'd be fine with it. That's a country smell. What we have here is not a country smell. I have people come to my house and they're like, 'what's that smell?' It's embarrassing to say what it is.”
Cardinal went on to explain that the revised tank design involves a “receiving port, essentially a 5- or 6-foot diameter manhole into which hauling trucks would discharge the waste.
“Waste would go into the manhole, then through an equalizer pipe and it would come in underneath so it doesn’t disturb the crust on top, which minimizes the smell. When you disturb that crust, that’s when the smell is released, so this would eliminate that possibility," he said.
Cardinal pointed out that this proposal is a unique and innovative idea to make efficient use of waste that needs to go somewhere, ultimately. Currently, nobody else in the area is doing anything like it.
“There are no other opportunities for them to,” he said. “People discharge this waste and the Weigands haul it. This is a great application for this waste on this property.”
Cardinal referenced a watershed map of the area, noting that the closest local residence is approximately 1,200 feet away from the site of the proposed tank.
“Everybody else is over a half a mile, or close to a mile, away,” he said. “And these residences are owned by the applicant. (Lake Koshkonong) is a mile away, and you can see our subject property is all farmland owned by the applicant. That's where they do their land-application processes and there are no restrictions in this area.”
He went on to explain: “Everything goes to the Rock River to the east/northeast. A point that was brought up by the Town of Sumner was whether these land-application processes would impact the lake and the answer is no. The watershed from these properties goes to the river, not to the lake part of the river. This is a map to indicate direct conduits to groundwater, and you'll see there's no identified direct conduit to groundwater within this area. Again, any risks to the groundwater are not in these areas.”
Finally, Cardinal explained that there is no danger of toxins or pathogens leaching into the area’s drinking water as a result of the proposed tank.
“This is controlled by a nutrient-management plan where they control the application rates,” he said. “They do soil testing and they'll be under a permit requiring monthly testing of the material they store in the tank. Those tests are for nitrates, chlorides and other pathogens. The DNR also is very cognizant of what they call vector-attraction reduction, and those are primarily in waste applications and industrial facilities. There isn't a concern in land application due to the lower concentration of sludge and biosolids, a Class B waste. We are trying to remove the application of cake sludge biosolids as part of this proposal. And we're going to put a fence for safety around the site where the tank will be located. It can be locked, and secured landscaping put in around the outside.”
Franz Weigand himself spoke in favor of the revised proposal, pointing out that his family includes three generations of farmers who are just trying to keep the family business afloat.
“We're just trying to help rural America survive,” he said. “We've been told the (City of Fort Atkinson) is getting larger and larger. Eventually, our treatment plan will be the first one to get cut off, so we're just trying to have a Plan B here. Otherwise, we'll have to haul the waste away. We just have a local customer base; we're a three-truck business.”
Weigand’s daughter, Lindsay Gillette, added, “Me and my husband have been running the trucking side of the business for about five years now. We just want to continue to do this as a small business and I want to pass this on to my kids and enjoy family life and stay close together.”
Westrick pointed out that the waste being spread on the fields is not up for debate, as it already is permitted.
“This is just a matter of getting the holding tank to contain the waste for a certain part of the year, and then spreading that waste two times,” he said, adding, “The waste that’s been coming from the City of Fort Atkinson, which is the concentrated cake that has been treated and which neighbors say really smells, is not what will be in this pit. In the pit is going to be the watered-down version. Sure that smells, but what's going to be coming out of this pit will not smell like the sludge because it's not concentrated and it's going to be tilled in. So to say that there is going to be more of a smell than there is now? I don't think so.”
After the hearing, the commission referred the matter back to the Town of Sumner Board of Supervisors for review.