May 11, 2021 – Washington Co., WI – “All the cards are not on the table and the county is just trying to push this through really fast,” said LeRoy Gehring as he stood on State Highway 83 in front of the 200 acre farm he works with his son Jacob and wife Anne.
The family is in jeopardy of losing land as supervisors in Washington County prepare to vote Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at 6 p.m. to extend County Highway W between State Highway 175 and State Highway 83.
That proposed extension will cut through three century farms including the Gehrings, David and Anne Wenninger, and Greg Goeller. Another farm that will be impacted is owned by Elaine Gehring. Officials in Washington County said the $2.5 million project for a new road is designed to improve safety.
“What they’re proposing will impact the northern part of our farm,” said Jacob Gehring. “They want to cut across the top field and… the county just wants to buy it because we won’t be able to farm any of it anymore. The same thing will happen with the Wenninger farm.”
Click HERE to read about the Wenningers trying to save their 7th generation farm
That section of land, according to Jacob Gehring, is pristine for farming. “This land is our most productive land because it is well drained and highest producing and the road will go through a good chunk of our land.”
This is the third time in two years the Washington County Board has tried to take the Gehring’s property through eminent domain. “We paid good money for this land and they’ve been beating on us a long time. This is the third time this discussion has come up and it is draining,” said Jacob.
LeRoy Gehring said the farming families don’t even get a chance to talk to the county supervisors who will be voting on the road project.
“They (administration) can all visit with the county supervisors at the meetings and have presentations and we’re not allowed to talk,” he said. “The only thing we can do is call our supervisors and talk to them but a lot of them don’t return our calls. One of the problems, there are not a lot of farming people on the board anymore.”
To throw more stress into the mix the Wenninger family learned Monday someone was telling county supervisors that they were going to sell their property anyway… to a company that would turn it into a gravel pit. “Never ever was that in our plans,” said Anne Wenninger.
The rumor reportedly tied into 73 acres the Gehrings were looking to buy in 2017-2018; they closed on the purchase in 2019.
“That was the Tom and Florence Schellinger farm just up the road on Highway 83,” said LeRoy Gehring.
“Before I bought it the Michels Corporation had a bid to buy that farm and they had a certain date when they had to close. They put an extension on it because the road was coming through. Who builds roads in Washington County…. Michels does.”
According to Gehring, Town of Addison chairman, Robert Bingen, who works for Michels was trying to buy the property.
“The sale was going to be for more money than agriculture money,” said LeRoy Gehring. “When the road issue came up they let their offer lapse and they backed out and that’s when I was able to buy it for high farmland money.”
Click HERE to contact your Washington County Supervisor.
LeRoy Gehring confirmed, the farmland he bought was going to be used for gravel. “But at a meeting county executive Josh Schoemann made a comment to the effect, ‘isn’t it ironic the place where we want to put a road was actually where gravel is… and that should save the county money.’
“The community surely doesn’t want a gravel pit there… and why would I,” he said. “This is my farm. I raise crops – I didn’t buy it to sell gravel.”
The Gehrings milk 200 cows on a 500 acre farm. They raise crops for the dairy including corn, beans, wheat and alfalfa. In 2016 the Gehrings were one of the first in Washington County to add a robotic milking system.
The Gehring farm was settled in 1856. Seven generations have worked the farm.
Jamming the proposal through via a vote by Washington County supervisors seems to be the goal of Wednesday’s meeting, according to the Gehrings.
“Anything over 5 acres of land requires an agricultural impact study to be performed and that statement has not been completed,” said Jacob. “There has been nothing from the county or the state and they plan on voting prior to even getting any recommendation from the state on how this will impact our land. We have a lot of concern about that.”
LeRoy Gehring said the costs the county administration is rolling out is from two years ago. “We really don’t even know the true cost of this project,” he said.
Questioned whether building an extension to CTH W would make things safer, the Gehrings, Wenningers, Goellers, and Elaine Gehring think the county is actually creating more problems.
“It makes it worse. They’re talking safety but what are you doing to poor little Allenton,” said LeRoy. “It is not a better way to get from Hartford to West Bend; you have the railroad tracks and more congestion. The alternative is CTH K which was repaved in 2020 and turn lanes were put in. Promote CTH K to I41 to STH 33.
“If it is about safety then fix CTH S – but how is this the worst intersection in Washington County when Germantown has a lot more accidents.”
As an alternative Jacob Gehring suggested taking care of the problem sections independently and then reevaluating.
“Start with 175 and CTH S and then evaluate it; don’t spend a ton of money up front. That would be a much more financially responsible idea,” he said.
The Gehrings are also flummoxed about the mixed signals from Washington County executive Josh Schoemann. On April 22, 2021 Schoemann gave his State of the County address where he praised farmers, talked about the “rich agricultural history” and respecting “the struggles of our people in agriculture.”
“Yet we should all find comfort in the hope that these struggling farmers so naturally identified that our county is not built simply on the shaky foundation of one sector of the economy. We are rooted in community, being and living in communion with one another.”
Click HERE for the April 22, 2021 full State of the County speech.
Jacob Gehring wondered, if the county said it cared about its farmers why are they always being attacked. “It is hard to go through our day to day and be good stewards of the land and the county just wants to come and take it from us,” he said.
Click HERE to contact your Washington County Supervisor. (On Tuesday morning the county’s website was down. I’ve sent a note and hoping it will be back up shortly so people will be able to access their supervisor.)
Wednesday’s meeting at the Washington County Courthouse, 432 E. Washington Street, starts at 6 p.m. in the lower level chambers.