Right to Farm Proposal is Hopelessly VagueI am writing to...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

November 27, 1994

Right to Farm Proposal is Hopelessly Vague

I am writing to request that the Carroll County commissioners postpone a decision on the Right to Farm Ordinance until there is adequate time to correct the severe deficiencies in it. The public simply has not had enough time to study the ordinance and provide thoughtful suggestions on its improvement.

I favor the concept of a "right to farm" ordinance. However, the draft is overreaching, vague and internally inconsistent. Specifically, some of the problems are:

* It is extremely unfair to certain contiguous property owners. I refer to those who purchased residential property where there were no reasonable expectations that the adjoining property would be used for agricultural operations. An example would be adjoining land that is zoned conservation and is currently forested, but which could be converted to agriculture and protected under the ordinance. As a result, the value of the residential property could be lowered.

* The ordinance nullifies public health protection. The ordinance states that it shall not restrict protection of the public health. However, in determining whether a public health nuisance exists the health officer "shall apply the criteria provided in this ordinance." There are no public health criteria in the ordinance.

* The definition of "agricultural land" is vague and overly broad. All land that has been used as an agricultural operation continuously for one year is "agricultural land." Does this mean one year before a complaint is filed? Or one year before the adoption of the ordinance? Or one year at any time in history?

* The definition of "agricultural operations" is overly broad. The definition incorporates the definitions contained in two state laws, and adds a long list of other activities. But the definition "is not limited to" these extensive lists. Are there limits?

* The "generally accepted agricultural practice" definition is confusing and inconsistent. The bottom line is that an agricultural practice is "generally accepted" if it's not prohibited by a regulation. Since much of agriculture is unregulated, basically anything goes. The definition uses the terms "best" and "authorized," but these terms are essentially meaningless in light of the bottom line.

* The right to maintain a private action in court appears to be virtually non-existent. Apparently, the ordinance contemplates that a property owner could go to court only to dispute the reconciliation committee's determination that a particular operation is an agricultural operation conducted on agricultural land in accordance with generally accepted agricultural practices. But that "right" seems academic in light of the broad and vague definitions of these terms.

* The non-elected reconciliation committee has excessive authority and is not required to be balanced. Tucked in the middle of the discussion of the committee's authority is a statement that the committee has the right to issue orders as to "the interference with agricultural operations resulting from nonagricultural land uses." What exactly does this mean? Moreover, the three-member committee can consist of two farmers, and only one of the members is required to be competent and fair.

With the committee's extremely broad authority and lack of balance, who would want to take a complaint to the committee at the risk of having to pay costs and attorney's fees? . . .

I respectfully request that the board take the time to get it right. I would be pleased to offer suggestions as to the language in the ordinance. However, a number of questions need answering first, and the needed changes would be significant enough that in fairness the public ought to have another opportunity to comment.

Richard E. Geyer

Mount Airy

Gone to the Dogs

After reading Sun staff writer Rob Hiaasen's article "Beer Hound" (Oct. 11), I have to raise an objection with The Sun. What is the staff thinking when publishing an article like this?

As a psychiatrist involved in a community mental health clinic here in Maryland, I work with a population that is trying to overcome addictions to various substances, alcohol included. Part of the process for me to impart to these individuals seeking treatment is to get them to acknowledge that substances which affect mental functioning should be avoided if such substances negatively impact on their lives.

Certainly, on a weekly basis, we as readers are exposed to many facets of the drug abuse crisis tormenting all communities in the country. Alcohol is by no means an exception to this problem, and therefore, from my perspective, should not be trivialized as lighthearted fare in your Today section.

I treat people who need a positive influence to direct them away from substance abuse. A beer drinking dog? I guess the adage "man's best friend" takes on a new perspective. What are his picks for Sunday's games?

Joel Hassman, M.D.

Westminster

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