Animal rules Special Town Meeting is Feb. 11 in Westport

First, selectmen have questions concerning legality of petition proposal

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 1/14/20

WESTPORT — A petition bid to change Westport’s Right to Farm regulations in ways that would, among other things, outlaw the new Board of Health animal registry and related inspections …

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Animal rules Special Town Meeting is Feb. 11 in Westport

First, selectmen have questions concerning legality of petition proposal

Posted

WESTPORT — A petition bid to change Westport’s Right to Farm regulations in ways that would, among other things, outlaw the new Board of Health animal registry and related inspections will go to town voters at a February 11 special town meeting.

The Board of Selectmen began the process of calling the special election last week after a group calling itself the Farmers Alliance succeeded in collecting roughly 500 signatures for the measure that would ramp up the Right to Farm ordinance in ways that would prevent most town oversight of farming, especially where farm animals are concerned.

Alliance leaders Sam Mundel, Sherri Mahoney, Charlie Merrow and Patrick McBride wrote recently that, “Existing regulations authorize the state and town to inspect Westport farms perhaps two to three times a year depending on the animal types and size. That appears to be more than enough regulation. The path forward seems clear. Westport farmers don’t want another redundant regulatory burden. The town doesn’t need the animal registry to support police and fire needs or barnbook inspections.”

The Board of Health and others have argued, however, that many farms — perhaps 200 or more — are overlooked by the state Barn Book process — or any other listing — and that the registry would help bring those locations to account as the state requires.

At their meeting, selectmen did not discuss the merits of the petition proposal — that will happen at a meeting on September 21, a week after the special town meeting warrant is finalized.

Board Chairwoman Shana Shufelt said she wants the town’s attorney to weigh in aspects of the petition and special meeting.

Questions she would like put to the attorney include:

• An opinion in the legality of holding the special town meeting. Is the petition in order?

• Concerns expressed by some about the way petitions had been stapled together.

• What is your opinion about the legality of the article …

 — Is the proposed article one that is within the authority of a town meeting to act upon?

 — Is it likely that the state attorney general would oppose this?

 — Would the passage of this article change the ability of the Board of Health to permit swine and equine operations — would this established process become invalid?

 — The Board of Health has a regulation to register livestock — will that be eliminated?

 — The petition is a response to the animal registry put forth by the Board of Health. If this passes, does that mean the Board of Health could never create a keeping of animals regulation (the state says it is empowered to do so)?

 — The petition is placing the authority for handling the livestock census with the Agricultural Commission which is an appointed board. Can that authority be placed with a volunteer board and are there privacy considerations concerning open meeting rules?

Petition for a Special Town Meeting

The petition states …

1. The following three paragraphs shall be added to the existing Right to Farm Bylaw

 “There shall be no requirement to register, license, permit and/or pre-approve the keeping of livestock or agricultural activities with any town agency and/or department in the Town of Westport except for the existing regulations for Tenant Farms.

 The Town may require a livestock census to provide estimates on animal types and locations within town. This livestock census will be developed and managed by the Town of Westport’s Agricultural Commission. The livestock census will serve two purposes only, to help facilitate the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture’s barnbook inspections and to improve local police and fire emergency preparedness.

 There will be no fees or fines associated with this livestock census. The livestock census may be shared on a confidential basis with local animal inspectors appointed  by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture to perform barnbook inspections, and the Town of Westport’s police and fire departments. The livestock census will not be shared with any other person or agency unless so ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction.

 Furthermore, there shall be no town inspections, regulations, guidelines, penalties, fines, fees, punishments and/or restrictions of any kind with respect to farming and agriculture within the Town of Westport that deviate in any way from Massachusetts General Laws.

2. Paragraph 3 of the existing Right to Farm bylaw shall be deleted in its entirety and replaced with the following:

 “The word “farm” shall include any parcel or contiguous parcels of land of any size used for the purpose of agriculture.”

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