Here's something to add to the list of things you probably don't need to worry about: The state Department of Natural Resources wants to dispose of deer carcasses that may be infected with chronic wasting disease in Dane County's landfill, leachate from which gets pumped into Madison's sewerage treatment plant. From there, the little-understood prions that cause CWD ' an always-fatal brain disease ' could end up in sludge that's injected into farmers' fields.
The good news? The possibility that this might spread deadly disease is considered remote.
'The risk is not zero,' says Alan Crossley, the DNR's project leader for CWD. But 'for anything to happen, the prions would have to migrate.' And the landfill should keep this from happening.
Currently, the county's Rodefeld landfill only accepts deer that are from outside the Eradication Zone ' hunters must show tags to prove it ' or that have tested negative for CWD. (Unmindful of this rule, the city of Madison simply asks that deer carcasses be 'cut up and place[d] in double plastic bags weighing no more than 40 pounds.')
The DNR wants to be able to landfill deer carcasses that have not been tested and, ultimately, those that have tested positive.
Earlier this year, the state passed a law to indemnify ' exempt from liability ' landfills that accept carcasses with CWD. But landfills have continued to balk, meaning the DNR must still either incinerate these or use a chemical digester, both costly options.
In late July, DNR Secretary Scott Hassett wrote Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, seeking a change in policy. He cited various arguments in support, including that the federal government has approved and other states allow landfill disposal, and that 'the media hype associated with CWD...has diminished considerably.'
Hassett also wooed Falk with this aside: 'I know that in the past, you have been out there at the Barneveld registration station cutting heads off with the best of them.... I hope that you will again roll up your sleeves to help us gain the approvals necessary to landfill carcasses in the Dane County landfill.' Then, hot chocolate for everyone!
The county is now reviewing a proposed contract with the DNR. (links to the draft document and Hassett's letter can be found at right) Falk aide Topf Wells stresses that no decision has been made and that, given the need for committee and County Board approval, there will be 'ample opportunity for public input.'
Wells says the county's concerns go beyond safety. 'In some policy debates,' he notes, 'an action doesn't only have to be safe, it has to be perceived as safe.'
Mike DiMaggio, the county's solid waste manager, thinks any prions would be filtered out before ending up in effluent: 'I feel confident that the way landfills are built today we'd never see a problem.'
Dave Taylor, who works for the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, agrees: 'The information we have seen to date would suggest that if appropriate operational measures are used, the risk would be very small.' Mike Simon, the district's assistant chief engineer, shares this assessment but adds, 'The biggest concern is that prions are a big unknown right now ' nobody seems to know a lot about them.' All in all, he thinks the deal will likely be approved.
John Stauber, co-author of a prescient 1997 book about related mad cow disease, is aghast. 'That's absolutely a bad idea!' he exclaims. 'Any infected animal should be put through a digester. No positive animal should be landfilled or buried.'
But, in fact, if putting diseased deer into landfills is dangerous, so is having them bound over hill and dale. And Crossley notes that the abundance of caution shown toward landfill disposal is not universal: About 30% of hunters informed that their deer tested positive for CWD, he says, elect to keep and eat the diseased meat.
Nice perk if you can get it
Gary Hamblin didn't miss it by much. Dane County's sheriff is retiring in January, eight months shy of his 10th anniversary. Had he reached this milestone, he would have been eligible for sick-leave benefits worth nearly half his $106,766 annual salary, under a little-known benefit for a small group of Dane County elected officials. Two other retirees ' Register of Deeds Jane Licht and Clerk of Courts Judy Coleman ' are eligible.
'This provision extends to elected county department heads who have served at least 10 years and who retire from the job,' confirms Topf Wells, who looked into the issue at Isthmus' request. The benefit is equal to 1,000 hours at the official's last hourly rate and can be redeemed in cash payments of up to $7,000 a year or applied to health insurance premiums. For Licht and Coleman, that translates into nest eggs of $34,180 and $36,850, respectively.
The benefit, approved in April 1999, is available to the county exec, sheriff, treasurer, coroner, register of deeds, clerk of courts, clerk and county board chair. Prior to this year, only two officials ' former Coroner Ray Wosepka and former Treasurer Jim Amundson ' have cashed in.
Wells hastens to note that this perk does not augment any existing sick-leave benefits, of the sort university professors and state lawmakers save up and cash in. That's because, he says, the people holding these offices receive no sick leave and no paid vacation.
That's one way to look at it. The other is to say they have unlimited sick pay and vacation, since their pay is never docked for time missed. So what's to stop them from, say, taking off 48 weeks a year?
'I think that's called the electorate,' says Wells. He adds that 'the personalities and traditions of the county exec's office' ' where he's worked for both Rick Phelps and Kathleen Falk ' render this a moot point. 'These are folks who don't take long vacations. I don't think Kathleen has ever taken more than a week off.'
Falk, by the way, will reach her 10-year mark next April.
Paying it forward
Gov. Jim Doyle, having just won an election in which he reportedly raised and spent at least $10 million, is hoping to raise a little more. On Jan. 2, he plans a fund-raising dinner at the Marriot in Middleton. The price of admission: $500 per person.
'This is a way to help pay for the bills that are still coming in,' says campaign spokesman Anson Kaye. Does that mean Doyle blew every last cent he raised during the campaign? Kaye won't say, at least not today: 'There's going to be a filing that's coming out in January.' He adds, without irony, that Doyle's main focus is now on such issues as health care and ethics, which includes campaign finance reform.
Mike McCabe of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says the days when candidates took a breather from such activities are long gone: 'Campaign fund-raising has become a nonstop enterprise.' Doyle is also aggressively raising money for his second inaugural, taking advantage of relaxed rules to seek business contributions of up to $50,000.
Kaye notes that the Jan. 2 event is open to the public 'so long as we don't bust capacity.' Just call 255-2661, and have your credit card ready.
At right is a photo and caption as it appeared in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal, alongside an item that referred to the governor but didn't mention his name.