Editorial: Westport ‘disapproved’

Posted 8/27/20

State entities typically bend over backwards to avoid overruling local voters, but once in awhile they are left with little choice.

Such was the case last week when the state Attorney General …

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Editorial: Westport ‘disapproved’

Posted

State entities typically bend over backwards to avoid overruling local voters, but once in awhile they are left with little choice.

Such was the case last week when the state Attorney General notified Westport that its February vote to essentially render the Board of Health toothless where farms are concerned simply cannot be allowed to stand.

Massachusetts law is quite clear when it comes to boards of health and farms. Not only are boards of health authorized to regulate the keeping of livestock in any town, it is their duty to know all they can about where and how farm animals are kept.

So when a town up and decides to forbid its board of health from engaging in “inspection, procedures, regulations, guidelines, penalties, fines, fees, punishments, and restrictions,” regarding farms, the state is obliged to step in.

Westport’s town solicitor had warned the town that this wild expansion of ‘Right to Farm’ would not fly with the courts if passed.

But revved up by cries that an Animal Registry as proposed by the Board of Health would destroy farming life as Westport knows it, voters were in no mood for such advice.

The fact is that nothing about the Attorney General’s decision threatens Westport farming in the slightest.

Westport, as required, will get a better handle on how many farm animals reside in town and where, and the process won’t be the imposition or invasion of privacy that it was built up to be — at least for farms that keep reasonable track of their livestock and treat their animals well. Taking inventory and abiding by health standards go with the territory for any law abiding business.

And, much as some scoffed at the notion, Westport can only benefit by any move that helps erase the stigma left by hosting the northeast’s worst case of farm animal cruelty. By defiantly barring the barn door to town authorities, Westport left the impression that it wasn’t much interested in recognizing the problem, never mind fixing it. Again and again at meetings leading up to the vote, people wrote off the American Legion Highway ‘farm’ mess as the work of out-of-towners, ignoring the fact that this property was owned and managed by a Westport “farmer.”

More accurate, no doubt, was the claim that the vast majority of Westport farmers run upstanding, healthy operations, and treat their animals well.

For them, meeting basic town oversight as required by the state should be no big deal.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.