Palmyra residents worried about disposal of dead chickens amid bird flu concerns

NOW: Palmyra residents worried about disposal of dead chickens amid bird flu concerns

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) --- Concerns continue across Wisconsin after a highly contagious bird flu was detected this month.

The avian flu was confirmed in a commercial poultry flock in Jefferson County. It's Wisconsin's first case since 2015 according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Now, the dead birds will need to be disposed and people who live in the area are concerned about the method chosen.

Brett and Carrie Walsh live in the Village of Palmyra and say the commercial farm where the chicken carcasses will be dumped is just up the road from their family farm. "They're trying to bury 2.7 million chickens," said Brett Walsh.

The Walsh family says the confirmed case of bird flu came from Cold Spring Egg Farm and they found out from a neighbor that plans are being made for composting the dead birds. "My personal concerns are our water supply, next is the smell," said Walsh. He says he's also worried about other animals being attracted to the area where the chicken carcasses are disposed of.

Brett's wife Carrie says she's made attempts to get more information about the plan. "My first official phone call was to the egg farm," she said.

Carrie says she was not able to get much information so she reached out to the USDA. "They said the egg farm was not able to get the permits in time to send the birds off to the incinerator which is in Madison and is built for diseased birds," Walsh explained. She says she feels like the plan for composting was a last-minute decision and that it was not made in the best interest of those who live in the area.

The Walsh family is not the only local family concerned. They say dozens of their neighbors are also worried. Kimberly Worton lives nearby and says she shares the Walshs' concerns and has a few of her own.

"Nobody from the egg farm has really informed us neighbors all the details," said Worton. She says the main issue here is lack of communication. "It seems like there is a lot that would be decomposing which concerns us for the environment and water," she said.

Brett Walsh says the appropriate people involved could have gone about the situation differently. "I feel like if they would have let us know and educated us on this, we wouldn’t have so much of a problem," he said.

Walsh is now concerned about how composting the chickens could impact the value of the land in the area over time.

CBS 58 is working to obtain comment from Cold Spring Egg Farm and other officials involved and will update this story when we hear back.

In a memo Tuesday evening, DATCP stated it continues to work with local, state, and federal partners to depopulate the Jefferson County farm infected. The agency confirms that the birds will be composted after depopulation and says composting is "the most efficient and environmentally responsible method for disposal of bird carcasses.

The DATCP memo went on to say: 

"Compost piles will be constructed in a manner that includes a thick cover of compost carbon on top and underneath the carcasses. Encasing and topping the carcasses with at least one foot of the carbon layer encourages the higher temperatures that speed decomposition, absorbs odors, and provides additional protection against water penetrating to the area of the windrow where the chickens have been placed. The selected compost site, which is owned by the producer, has sufficient area and meets the locational criteria for a compost site to avoid groundwater contamination."
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