On February 4, 2013, the Village of Palmyra, Wisconsin, doubled its size and approved the annexation of 740 acres of property from the Town of Palmyra. Included in this annexation was not only 265 acres of farmland owned by small farmers, but also the town's self-supporting airport - and its town hall. Town residents were furious and strongly opposed the annexation for a number of reasons. The state Department of Administration, which renders non-binding opinions on annexations, determined that it was "against the public interest." In fact, the Village of Palmyra did not submit any information to the state about why it would make sense to annex this particular 740 acres. And no village in the state's history has ever annexed an airport. Then why did the Village take this action?
Standard Process, which owns 382 acres of farmland in the annexed section, used its hefty corporate influence to push the Village Board into annexing this land. And the Town of Palmyra is now officially suing the Village for annexing the land against its will for unstated purposes.
About the land: half of it is prime agricultural land that lies within the Scuppernong Agricultural Enterprise Area (AEA), part of the county's Farmland Preservation Plan. Established in 2010, it required the agreement of landowners and municipal bodies in the Town and the county. According to The Country Today, this act would move the land into a municipality that was not even part of the AEA petition process. And according to an article in The Jefferson County Daily Union, "a significant portion of the land is outside the village's designated urban growth area, as identified in both the village and county land use plans."
In another article in The Daily Union, Standard Process President Charles DuBois cited two reasons why the company wanted the Village to annex the land. The first is so that its farm facility can have access to the Village's municipal sewer and water services. This is related to the company's plans to build a hotel/conference facility out by its farmland. This is questionable for three reasons. One, the company's website (Standard Process) boasts that its water source is an artesian aquifer 500 feet below the surface, calling into question its desire to pump in municipal water. Second, the Village's annexation plan makes no mention of whether or how it is going to provide these services to anyone, including Standard Process. And finally, the Village could have annexed a narrow strip or small parcel of land to provide services to the company's farm. Instead, it grabbed 265 acres of prime farmland.
The second reason stated by DuBois is that the company wants to have its processing plant and farmland in the same municipality because "we may be subject to contradictory and inconsistent decision making by municipal governing bodies." Excuse me, but aren't there thousands of companies in this country that have multiple facilities in different municipalities and function perfectly well? If Standard Process is as outstanding a company as it claims to be, I would think that their management team could figure out how to deal with this. And if they can't, perhaps DuBois should fire them.
Vague wording in the Village's annexation plan. "Not in the public interest" according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. Questionable reasons given by the company's president in public. I and the good people of the Town of Palmyra smell a rat.
There is a another reason that has not been stated "on the record." DuBois has told local people that he wants that farmland, even if it means getting the Village to condemn it. He has also threatened to move the company if the Village and Town don't do what he wants them to do.
Will these people be able to stay on their farms, one of which has been in the family since the 1840's? (Cool side note: the wallpaper in their dining room was put up in the 1860's!) Based on the Village's current tax structure, the taxes on these landowners could skyrocket. In particular, the Village charges a $25/quarter acre tax for storm water runoff management. Gee, who might buy this land at today's low rates if the current owners can't afford to keep it?
In short, then, the village annexed farmland so that it could be used as...farmland. Huh? Ah, but whose farmland will it be eventually: the family farmers' or the greedy corporation's?
Nor would several local farmers sell to them. When Standard Process bought its existing farmland, it removed most of the trees and wildlife habitat, especially in a low-lying area where it now apparently grows commercial crops such as oats. Local residents fear it would do the same on any land it purchased. And local organic farmers wonder aloud where Standard Process acquires animal parts for some of its products because it certainly isn't from them.
Jefferson County organic farmer Weenonah Brattset, whose land lies within the Scuppernong AEA, was quoted as saying, "Once the land is annexed, it could be rezoned and anything could happen. There are landowners who have land in the AEA saying if cities and villages can start grabbing that land, why even have AEA's?"
And what's up with annexing the airport and town hall? They abut the Village's industrial park, where Standard Process has its processing plant. The company has complained that the Town has been uncooperative about runway and other issues and believes that the Village will be much more "reasonable" to deal with. However, the airport manager states that runway plans were in fact altered to accommodate the company's concerns. Oh - and DuBois won't return his calls.
So why does the company really want the Village to take over the airport, especially since Village officials have said it will remain an airport? Does Standard Process need the land for expansion of its facilities? Like every other small town in the country, Palmyra has an abundance of available industrial land. Why not build there? Or does it want the land for additional farmland? Nobody knows, except the folks at Standard Process, and they aren't saying.
And the town hall? The Village wants to grab the town hall? The little white pole building in the picture? Um, why?
All of these unanswered questions have led a lot of people to mistrust the motives of both the Village and Standard Process.
Yes, Standard Process provides a number of jobs in the area. By all accounts, it is a wonderful place to work. However, it is no different from any other corporation that thinks all of this gives it the right to do whatever it wants, regardless of the human consequences.
I suspect many people, myself included, like to think that the products we love come from wonderful corporations that treat everyone with respect and are great neighbors in their communities (Apple, anyone?). People who love Standard Process products - and there are many - will not want to believe that it has acted like a run-of-the-mill corporate bully in this situation. Perhaps they think that the Town Board should have "given them the farm" and said yes to all of the company's requests and demands. Perhaps they can get Standard Process to share its side of the story - the real story...
Because the people in the Town of Palmyra would really like to know the truth.