FAMILY FARMS NEED YOUR SUPPORT-DREDGED MATERIALS MANAGEMENT PLAN for Wisconsin & Minnesota
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We are writing as concerned and frustrated citizens. As we speak, the Army Corp of Engineers is proposing to confiscate our land under eminent domain for reasons they feel are justified, “cost effective and environmentally acceptable.” To us, it is exponentially more than that.
Burnside Dairy-Weisenbeck Brothers, LLC, is owned and operated by the Weisenbeck family. We are a fourth generation dairy corporation run by three brothers, and their parents. Drysdale Farms is owned and operated by the Drysdale family: Willard, Nora and Chelsey Drysdale; they too are a fourth generation farm. On Friday, May 12, 2017, a 150 page document was delivered by Fed-Ex to both of these establishments. This very document would be the beginning of a fight to defend two separate legacies: the family farm. Unbeknownst to either of the families involved, the Army Corp of Engineers devised a 40 year plan to utilize their land for Dredged Material Management Plan. The 150 page document described their goal, mission and the inevitable: the seizing of agricultural land for permanent placement of dredged material from the Mississippi River.
We live in the Upper Mississippi River Valley in Durand, Wisconsin. It is beautiful and peaceful; moreover it is an area known for it’s bountiful, rolling agricultural land. Farming in this area is challenging and yet rewarding at the same time: most farms in our area are passed down through generations. Our farm supports four families and fifteen employees. Farming of any sort is a profession of dedication, hard work, knowledge, love and pride. We continue our farming traditions because of the rewards that farming provides. We are the heart of America. The backbone of our country survives because of our industry, and the entire world reaps the benefits. Our children learn at a very young age that dedication and hard work paves the way for success. We have faith that our children will carry out what generations before had started. Without the generations that follow our footsteps, the agricultural world would be nonexistent. It is critical that farmsteads maintain what has been laid before them and utilize the resources that the land provides. Our community supports local business and is rooted in family and unity. With that being said, unity is the only emotion that is keeping us afloat these days.
Along the Mississippi River are many scenic small towns. We truly live in small town America. The river has carved the land and it is very much considered God’s country. As most know, the Mississippi River is a major navigation channel that supports the entire Midwest. This river is fed by several smaller tributary rivers. The Chippewa River feeds into the Mississippi River just north of the area that we live in. The Chippewa supports various recreational hobbies at best but does not provide any significant benefit to the area.
We have been served an incredible injustice. The pamphlet that was dropped at our doorsteps on May 12, 2017 was the first knowledge that we had of the Corps of Engineers’ intention to utilize our land to “fix” their problem. The Army Corp of Engineers is authorized to maintain a navigable channel on the Mississippi River. The Corp has practiced this authority for many years having minimal impact on the surrounding communities. The Corp has managed the conditions; however, they have neglected to fix the problem: the Chippewa River. Sand and sediment are natural occurrences that happen in any river basin. In this circumstance, it is estimated that about 90-95% of the sand being dredged from the Mississippi River originates from the delta of the Chippewa River. The continued spillage of sand fills the Mississippi’s navigation channel, thus requiring the need for dredging. Once the material is dredged from the river, it needs to be moved to its permanent placement site. This is where the Corp’s problem ends... But it is only the beginning of our problem.
As a result of the Corp of Engineers continued negligence to fix the Chippewa River, the piles of sand have become abundant. Running out of sites that have a large capacity, the Corp began looking beyond the banks of the Mississippi River and wound up at our doorsteps: potentially 40 screened sites for dredged sand placement. Of those 40 sites, Weisenbeck, Drysdale and Flurry farms were selected with a total of 470 acres of agricultural land to be lost as well as three other holding sites totaling 39 acres. As stated per the Dredged Material Management Plan, the goal of the study was to identify the “least costly, environmentally acceptable method of managing the estimated 10.7 million cubic yards (CY) of material that will be dredged from the Mississippi River during the 40 year planning period.” Essentially the plan spells out various reasons as to why the Corp did or did not select a specific site. The Corp of Engineers makes it very evident that the primary motivation in selecting a site is determined by the expense that they will incur from moving the sand: the cheaper, the better. There is no regard paid to the expense it will cost the farms due to loss of their valuable agricultural land. You CANNOT put a price tag on generational farming, nor can you EVER replace it. It is on this premise that we fight.
Accompanied with the pamphlet that we received on May 12, 2017 was a letter from the Corp of Engineers; again, this was the very first knowledge we had had regarding this plan. The letter briefly stated their jurisdictions and they welcomed any questions or concerns: allowing for a 30 day review period before the Dredged Material Management Plan would be put into effect. Although they encouraged cooperation, the Corp expressed that unwillingness to cooperate and surrender the selected land, would result in the property being seized under eminent domain. Give up your land or we will take it.
As in most small communities, word traveled fast. Words were exchanged, support was offered and camaraderie ensued. Acquaintances and strangers became friends-unity began to form. Support from representatives, senators and congressmen and women was sought. It was with great disbelief that the proposed plan could even be possible. The Corp of Engineers was bombarded with phone calls, emails and letters. It was with reluctance that the Corp agreed to attend a public hearing to explain the proposed plan. Within that time frame the Corp of Engineers also extended the commentary period by two weeks: a small victory in itself.
On June 6, 2017, we, along with 125 other community members, filled the tight confines of the Nelson Community Hall. We were again briefed by the Corp of Engineers and then allowed a question and answer session. Many comments suggested that the Corp fix the Chippewa River by means of rip rapping the shoreline as well as implementing wing dams within the channel of the river. There were also suggestions of placing the dredged material into a baron wetland site within the area. Both recommendations were offered as a solution to the problem: if the problem isn’t fixed, it will continue; therefore the need for more land will ensue. The 40 sites that were proposed will inevitably end up as permanent sites for dredged material as the problem will continue unless it is fixed. The Corp commented that this avenue would be too costly. Though costly upfront, would it not be cheaper in the long run? It was the Corps LACK of knowledge and preparedness that was a disgrace as questions were left unanswered more often than not and it was even mentioned that sites were selected by the use of Google Maps. At one point it was revealed that funding for this project had yet to be secured. The selected sites had not even been visited by the Corp of Engineers nor did they take interest in knowing the details of the sites whereabouts. To summarize the evening, the Corp spoke mainly of cost effectiveness. There was NOT ONE person that supported the Corp of Engineers proposed Dredged Materials Management Plan and by the end of the evening the Corp seemed a bit dismissive and removed. There is another public hearing to be held in Wabasha, Minnesota on June 15, 2017.
The fight for Burnside Dairy-Weisenbeck Brothers LLC and Drysdale Fams began on May 12, 2017. Most argued that this was a losing battle or a waste of time: the Corp of Engineers is a Federal Agency unwilling to compromise. But to us, we, as well as several area farms, stand to lose everything! This land is our very LIVELIHOOD. Without our agricultural land, our dairy herd cannot sustain and our family will not be supported. Although the Corp of Engineers states that our area is abundant in agricultural land, encouraging us that we could simply relocate our herd and start anew, we must argue that prime agricultural land is very much endangered in our area. Our area is rich with generation upon generation of family farms; that which limits the availability of land altogether. To imply that land could be replaced simply by purchasing adjacent properties is outright naive.
We have spent many hours deliberating over this debacle that we had thrown at us. In all, this situation seems completely Un-American. How can our government allow something of this magnitude to happen to small town America? Does our government not govern of the people, by the people, for the people? With that we must say, that we in Durand, Nelson and Alma, Wisconsin as well as Wabasha and Kellogg, Minnesota feel COMPLETELY unsupported by our Federal Government. We invite you to visit our area, speak to the farmers and the community, hear our concerns and listen with your heart. “Let’s make America great again!” We can’t make America great without your understanding.
We are petitioning for the Corp of Engineers to extend the draft period for continued exploration of different sites and/or options. There IS a better solution!
On behalf of Burnside Dairy-Weisenbeck Brothers LLC as well as Drysdale Farms, we thank you for your time and appreciate your continual review of this proposed plan and for helping us with this matter.
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