About 200 households suing large farms in Wood and Juneau counties

By  | 

MAUSTON, Wis. (WSAW) -- A lawsuit filed against corporate farms in the Central Sands area of Wisconsin is as of the New Year now has more than 300 people or roughly 200 households signed on.

A view of one of the farms accused in the lawsuit from the backyard of a household with dangerously high nitrate levels.

The lawsuit filed by lawyers at Habush Habush and Rottier and Pines Bach blames the Central Sands Dairy, Wysocki Produce Farm and their insurance company of knowingly causing high nitrate levels in the groundwater in Wood and Juneau counties. a href="https://www.wsaw.com/content/news/2-law-firms-plan-to-prepare-case--494327911.html">7 Investigates first reported about the lawsuit in September, 2018 before the suit was officially filed.

"It's difficult for an individual resident to bring a large, corporate farm to justice and so with these neighbors joining together in this case, there really is strength in numbers," attorney Jason Knutson, who represents the homeowners, said.

Since the civil complaint was filed in November, 2018, the Knutson said they have amended the complaint four times to add homeowners to the case. The case is not a class action lawsuit because he said the homeowners' situations are very different. The households representative include people who live in the area affected full-time, people who have a seasonal home but live elsewhere, and people who own plots of land.

He explained class action lawsuits treat each person who joins the same, so by listing each household as an individual plaintiff, the judge is able to rule on each situation differently.

In some cases, the plaintiffs are asking for the farms to pay expenses for having to run a treatment system, for purchasing bottled water, or for property value damages due to contaminated water. In other cases, they are asking for compensation for the health consequences from consuming water with high nitrate levels, such as cancers and miscarriages.

"In many ways this case will be groundbreaking because, in addition to asking for damages for these families, we've also asked the court to require the CAFO to change the way it manages the farm," Knutson said.

According to the complaint, the Central Sands Dairy Farm, a Wysocki Family of Farms partner, reportedly has 6,165 animals that produce 37,500,200 gallons of liquid manure and wastewater, and 14,472 tons of solid manure annually. Reportedly, 50 million gallons of liquid waste and 26,000 tons of solid waste annually from those animals and other sources are spread on fields in the central sands area.

The lawsuit accuses the farms and the insurance company of knowingly spreading the fertilizer irresponsibly and contaminating the groundwater. It also accuses them of lying to residents in 2007 by saying "that their cropping practices would 'improve the quality of soil and water of the central sands area;' their waste disposal practices would not pollute the environment; a manure digester would keep their neighborhood footprint small; they would achieve reduced nitrate leaching; and odors from the facility would be minimal."

Citing EPA testing done in spring of 2018, the lawsuit states the numbers show wells upgradient (essentially meaning upstream for the groundwater flow) of the farms had nitrate levels below the state and federal standards, while those downgradient had unsafe levels.

The lawsuit also has pages listing the farms' federal and state violations that date back more than 10 years.

"We're hoping by changing some of the practices, we'll be able to help protect the water in this area along with the health of the people who live there," Knutson said.

Tim Huffcutt, a spokesperson for the Wysocki Family of Farms told 7 Investigates, "we are aware of the lawsuit, acknowledge this as a legal matter and are cooperating fully as this case moves through the legal process."