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Environmental group remains upset with Marathon County manure spill outcome

MADISON, Wis. (WNS) - A recent manure spill of more than 1 million gallons that polluted the Little Eau Pleine River in Marathon County netted the offender a fine of only $464 from the Department of Natural Resources.

Amber Meyer Smith, director of government relations for the state's largest environmental group, Clean Wisconsin, said a tiny fine for a huge spill sends the wrong message.

"You're going to throw millions of gallons of manure into a river and we're not going to fine you but $500? That's really sending the wrong message," she said, "and what you see happening is businesses, instead of actually looking to invest in solutions. start to just build the violation into the cost of doing business - and that is really what we need to be preventing."

Phosphorus pollution, the kind represented by a huge manure spill such as this, is one of the state's biggest water-pollution problems. Meyer Smith said enforcement and fines should be much stiffer.

"I think that maybe even this case in particular should be a wake-up call that we've got some problems that need to be addressed," she said, "and that we need to be sending the right signal about how important our natural resources are to the public."

In this case, the DNR learned about the spill from a tipster who said the farm's manure pit had been overflowing for months.

Clean Wisconsin and other environmental groups have said environmental enforcement is weaker under Gov. Walker's administration.

"Unfortunately, they've been plagued with staff shortages, and the numbers at DNR have gone down precipitously in recent years of people doing enforcement," Meyer Smith said. "So we'd really like to see more people out in the field doing that enforcement and protecting the lakes, rivers, streams, clean air that all Wisconsinites want."

Manure contaminates waterways by introducing excessive levels of nutrients such as phosphorus that can produce algae blooms and kill aquatic life by consuming oxygen.