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Right to Farm Ordinance proposed

July 31, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners are moving toward protecting the agricultural community from complaints about farming odors, four years after the Washington County Farm Bureau requested the action.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said Wednesday the proposed Right to Farm Ordinance also would serve as a county endorsement of the agricultural community.

The County Commissioners discussed the draft ordinance at a meeting this week. Douglas said he thinks the ordinance will be adopted by October or November.

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Laurie Bucher, director of environmental health for the Washington County Health Department, said that as long as farmers are carrying out acceptable farming practices and doing so responsibly, they would be protected from complaints from residents who don't like the occasional smell of farms or who may have other similar concerns.

"If it's something unusual ... (such as) spreading manure, but it's all over the road ... then we would have to ask them to clean it up," Bucher said.

She said usually the odor from spreading manure lasts a few days and is gone.

"Now, if farmers are spreading manure every day for 360 days, then that's a problem," Bucher said.

Bucher said the Health Department receives about 25 complaints a year and that the number has increased slightly over the years.

Most of the complaints deal with odors from farms. But other residents have voiced concerns that some farmers have spread lime or fertilizer on windy days, and the material got on their homes or on clothes hanging out on the line, she said.

Those who complain typically are residents who move to Washington County and aren't used to living near farms or the odors and activities associated with the farming industry, officials have said.

Farmer Gerald Ditto said Wednesday he supports a Right to Farm ordinance, but he has some concerns about a possible makeup of a board that would be created to try to resolve farming complaints before they end up in court.

The seven-member Reconciliation Board would include agricultural experts, a resident and representatives from a civic organization, the county chapter of the Maryland Municipal League and the Washington County Association of Realtors.

Ditto said he had concerns that such a mixture would result in a "confrontation board" rather than a Reconciliation Board.

He said he didn't understand why the Maryland Municipal League, Realtors and a civic organization should be on the Reconciliation Board.

"We want to resolve the problems and not add to them," Ditto said. "I think there's grounds to question that."

He said the board should be made up of a Health Department representative, residents and farming experts.

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