Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Siting Law

July 11, 2012 07:22 AM


Source: Wisconsin Dairy Business Association

The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the Town of Magnolia exceeded its authority by imposing conditions not authorized by the Siting Law and that the Siting Review Board "acted properly" by fixing the Town's "mistake." This is not only a successful result for Larson Acres, but also huge victory for the future growth of the dairy industry in Wisconsin. DBA was pleased to be able to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in support of Larson's efforts.

This Wisconsin Supreme Court decision means local units of government are not allowed to exceed the requirements contained in the Livestock Facility Siting Law.

The decision was split: six justices (Abrahamson dissenting) agreed that the Town overstepped its authority. Five justices (Abrahamson/Bradley dissenting) agreed that the Siting Review Board had the authority to reverse those conditions.

The Court acknowledged many of the arguments made in defense of the Siting Review Board's decision - including that the issue of regulating livestock facility siting is separate and distinct from regulating its operation, that such operation is highly regulated and that the Town has many other tools available to regulate water pollution.

Highlights from the Court's decision include:

On the Town's Authority/Action
"We conclude that the legislature has expressly withdrawn from political subdivisions the power to regulate livestock facility siting in any manner not prescribed by the Siting Law. . . . Therefore, any attempt by the Town to regulate the livestock facility siting process outside the parameters set by the Siting Law is preempted."

"[N]one of the conditions the Town imposed were based on fact-finding the Town adopted. As a result, we hold the Town improperly imposed all of those conditions."

"The Town's concern that the legislature's preemption of the Town's former power over livestock facility siting will allow water polluters to operate without the threat of sanction is unwarranted. Several actors retain the tools and the authority to regulate water quality. . . Nothing in the Siting Law preempts the enforcement of such regulations, so long as the enforcement takes place outside the siting permit application process."

On the Siting Review Board's Authority
"It would be absurd for the Siting Board to tell Larson, which filed an application more than four years ago and was entitled to a permit shortly thereafter, that it was required to return to the beginning of the application process because of the Town's mistake."

"We . . . hold that the Siting Board properly exercised an implied power under the statue."

"In Wisconsin, as in states all over the country, the legislature has taken steps to balance the important interest in protecting precious natural resources with the important interest in encouraging a robust and efficient agricultural economy. As a central component of balancing these interests, the legislature has strictly limited the ability of political subdivisions to regulate the livestock facility siting process. The Town stepped over those limitations when it impermissibly conditioned the terms of a siting permit without following the guidelines set forth by the legislature. Because the Town's actions were violative of the Siting Law, the court of appeals was correct to find the challenged conditions in the permit invalid."

To read the Supreme Court's decision, click here.


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