Hearing held on right-to-farm bill

February 11, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- If yesterday's brief legislative hearing is an omen, Carroll County should have no problem getting permission from the General Assembly to pass a right-to-farm bill.

In the 15-minute hearing before the House Environmental Matters committee, no one raised an objection about the legislation. The only question asked was whether it is necessary in the wake of statewide legislation, enacted in the early 1980s, that protects farm rights.

"That legislation is very vague," said Donald Essich, chairman of the Carroll County Agricultural Commission, said of the existing law. "We have discussed this with the Department of Agriculture and they recommend that counties personalize that [law] to fit their needs.

"They are in support of [this legislation]."

Right-to-farm legislation, which has been enacted in Howard County and other neighboring counties, protects farmers from nuisance suits when they follow generally accepted agricultural practices.

Carroll officials must get permission from the General Assembly to enact such a local ordinance because of the county's commissioner form of government. Other counties that have enacted similar laws have charter governments, which allow local officials to adopt most of their own ordinances.

"I think this will be well received by the committee," Carroll County delegate Donald B. Elliott, a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, said of the Carroll bill. "The only time they [the committee members] would be concerned is if [the ordinance] would have statewide impact. We already have some charter counties that have similar ordinances."

The General Assembly bill also is supported by the Carroll County Commissioners and the county delegation, and public hearings already have been held on it, Mr. Elliott said.

"I think it will be viewed as courtesy legislation," he said.

Mr. Elliott said he expects the committee to send the bill to the entire House sometime next week.

A draft of the proposed county right-to-farm ordinance already has been prepared by the Carroll County Agricultural Commission. That proposed ordinance would establish a grievance committee to receive homeowner complaints. The grievance committee would consist of representatives of the county health department, extension agency, Soil Conservation Service and interested citizens.

"This committee will mediate an understanding between the farmer and the homeowner," Mr. Essich told the committee.

The commission's proposal, modeled after Howard County's ordinance, would give county health officials the ability to use discretion in responding to complaints. If the department has determined no health hazard exists, investigators may refuse to visit a site.

And, the proposed ordinance would allow farmers to recoup legal fees from complainants if the courts determine their legal actions amount to nuisance suits.

"The legislation is necessary because people are moving into the neighborhood who don't understand about the odor, the noises and about farming," said Taylorsville farmer Milton Hunter after the hearing. Mr. Hunter is vice president of the Carroll County Farm Bureau.

"As long as a farmer complies with the rules and regulations, he should be able to operate," Mr. Hunter said.

During his testimony yesterday, county attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. reminded the committee that Carroll County has the largest amount of land preserved for agriculture in the state.

dTC Mr. Thompson said he was speaking for the Carroll commissioners, who were involved in county budget hearings yesterday. All three commissioners support the legislation, he said.

"We realize we also have to preserve the industry of agriculture," Mr. Thompson said. "Agriculture is our most important industry in Carroll County."

Although the county has created agricultural zones that permit only one home per 20 acres and supported farmland preservation efforts, "more needs to be done," said Mr. Essich, a lifelong Westminster farmer.

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