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The Juneau County Board voted to postpone a potentially contentious decision about the Armenia groundwater contamination Dec. 18.

After a test of 100 wells, Armenia and Wood County’s Port Edwards area revealed more than 40 percent have nitrate levels exceeding the 10 milligrams per liter standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Juneau and Wood Counties, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Armenia Grower’s Coalition have sought a long term solution.

The median level exceeded 20 milligrams per liter. Some wells had as much as 50 milligrams per liter.

Bottled water is being supplied to homes for the time being by a the Armenia Grower’s Coalition. The coalition consists of Wysocki Produce Farms, B&D Farms and Okray Farms and was formed after the survey results.

Juneau County Corporation Counsel David Lasker has said there is an “unspoken agreement that this problem has something substantial to do with the agricultural uses that are in the area.”

The parties have reached a Memorandum of Understanding on the groundwater contamination, but the MOU required a vote of approval from the Juneau County Board.

The parties involved in the MOU are Juneau County, Wood County, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Armenia Growers Coalition. They are represented by Juneau County Chairman Alan Peterson, Director of Wood County Health Department Sue Kunferman, Secretary of the Department of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Daniel Meyer and Armenia Growers Coalition Manager James Wysocki, respectively.

Board Member Chris Zindorf, who represents Elroy, expressed his concern over the MOU, saying it “definitely leans toward protecting the Armenia Growers Association and farmers in the study-area… (it) will have no teeth as the Wisconsin DNR is weak and unresponsive to the protection of all people and not just farmers.”

The MOU states when any wells tests above 10 milligrams per liter, the homeowner will be advised to not drink the water and will be inform of the MOU’s Clean Water Drinking Plan. Wells with a test result between 8-10 milligrams per liter will “be offered two additional samples collected over the course of the year to verify that the well water is not nitrat impacted beyond the drinking water standard.”

The Clean Drinking Water Plan obligates the Armenia Grower’s Coalition to “provide bottled water and the installation and maintenance of a Water Treatment System.”

Homes with plumbing that is “not reasonably compatible” with the Water Treatment System to be installed by the Armenia Grower’s Coalition will be required to have alterations made before the treatment system is installed. It is not currently clear whether the homeowner will have to pay for these alterations.

Zindorf is particularly concerned about transparency.

“There are no provisions for transparency through a recording or transcript of these meetings, and also not provision for public input or participation,” Zindorf said. “I see the MOU as a good deal for the AGA and a bad deal for the people of Armenia Township and Juneau County.”

Lasker was not present at the Dec. 18 meeting. Board Member Jim Parrett, who represents Armenia and other affected areas, said he hoped at least a decision would be postponed until Lasker could answer questions they had on the MOU.

“I live there,” Parrett said. “This doesn’t fix any wells… They’re only going to put in filters. What about the people who need deeper wells?”

Parrett brought a jug of water from his home in the affected area along with a stack of plastic cups. He pleaded with the board to not pass the MOU, and if they did, to come take a drink of the water.

“My well was good in February,” Parrett said. “Is it good now?”

Parrett asked whether anything would be done to compensate those affected for the impact on property values and perceptions of the community. He said he had work done on his property on a hot day earlier in the year, and the workers declined to drink from his well.

“We’re going to be meeting monthly, we’re going to be sharing data,” said Juneau County Health Officer Barb Theis. The MOU requires the parties to meet monthly for the first six months, but meetings may become as occasional as every three months afterward.

Juneau County Chairman Alan Peterson said he would prefer to pass the MOU.

“This is just the beginning,” said Juneau County Health Officer Barb Theis. “They EPA assured me that this is a good step to begin with… It is not the end game.”

If passed, the MOU would terminate Dec. 31, 2022.

“Two years from now, when this runs out, we’re going to have a bigger problem,” Zindorf said.

Zindorf said he supported having an MOU, but wanted new terms.

“I think we do need a MOU with the AGA, but one with consequences and fixes to the problem and not just treating the symptoms of the problem,” Zindorf said.

Board Member John Wenum proposed postponing a decision on the MOU until January.

“I simply do not want to close any doors,” Wenum said. “The closing of doors to me would do a serious injustice to all parties concerned.”

Wenum’s motion was seconded by Zindorf and passed by the board, who will have to take the issue up again in 2019.

Lasker previously stated in the event an agreement could not be reached, state and federal agencies would be willing to exercise authority over the situation.

“Both the state and federal governments have a great deal of authority, particularly the EPA, to step in and issue orders,” Lasker said in September.

Other Business

The board commended Stephen Tully for 27 years of service to the county and Carol Fischer for 38 years of service to the county. Both were awarded plaques to commemorate their time with the county.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl or contact him at 608-697-6353

Reporter

Juneau County Star-Times reporter