Letter: Attention Westporters — It’s time to take back the town

Posted 11/10/19

To the editor:

On Monday, November 4, in a room full of opposition, the Board of Health voted in their Animal Site Registry. It was shocking that in spite of a large crowd of people opposing the …

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Letter: Attention Westporters — It’s time to take back the town

Posted

To the editor:

On Monday, November 4, in a room full of opposition, the Board of Health voted in their Animal Site Registry. It was shocking that in spite of a large crowd of people opposing the registry, and a large number of people that spoke out in opposition at this meeting, they continued to move forward with their unpopular vote.

In spite of edits made during the meeting modifying parts of the registry it was clear that folks in attendance were not in favor of it. One woman asked the relevant question: “Wait a minute, who are you working for? We voted for you, but you are not listening to what we want.”

A group of us had spent weeks working with the Board of Health towards a “no frills” registry that might meet with approval, and when we received the final draft last Thursday asked repeatedly that they delay the vote until we could finalize a registry more in keeping with what we felt people would tolerate. It’s difficult to understand how a publicly elected town board could move forward with a final vote against so much voiced opposition.

It is clear from this vote that the Westport Board of Health is not working for the very people that voted them into their positions, and I think we should all be posing the same question. Westport is a farming community with a Right-to-Farm Bylaw. If the board is not working for these people, then who are they working for?

We believe that it’s time to take back the town! Currently being proposed is a petition that members of the Westport Farmer’s Alliance have drafted which will amend our current Right to Farm Bylaw stating that, “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.” This bylaw change goes on to state “The Town may require a livestock census to provide estimates on animal types and location types within town. This livestock census will be developed and managed by the Town of Westport’s Agricultural Commission.”

In order to accomplish this bylaw change we need to present a petition for a Special Town Meeting. We will have the necessary 200-plus signatures needed to schedule this special meeting within the next few days.

Approximately 45 days after this petition is submitted we will be granted a Special Town Meeting at which folks in town will be given the opportunity to vote on the modifications to the current Right to Farm Bylaw. This bylaw will disallow the Animal Site Registry that the Board of Health are putting into effect. Every vote will count at this meeting so your support will be needed.

In order to make sure that the voices of those in town are listened to in the future we will need to be diligent at our next town election. We need to be sure that the people we vote for are interested in preserving the interests of our farming community instead of publicly stating that the farmers and animal owners are squealing about their rights being trampled.

I would also like to address a recent editorial containing false and misleading information. Many farms or those being targeted under this new regulation are not businesses. We are simply people that have a few farm animals on our property, and the Town of Westport does not have the right nor any responsibility to regulate these people.

Additionally, farmers and animal owners are not making any assertions that they are exempt from regulation or have disregard for any law or regulation. To the contrary; farms and animal owners are currently regulated under the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture barn book inspection process. Most farms in Westport are already participating in this barn book inspection process and are inspected on a yearly schedule. The farmers and animal owners in our town support this state inspection process. Our right to farm bylaw also clearly states that farms shall be able to operate with minimal conflict from town agencies, but the Town of Westport has chosen to ignore this bylaw. The Medeiros farm situation was indeed a tragedy, but it was a tragedy that the Westport Board of Health could have prevented. It was also a tragedy brought about by tenant farmers who were non-resident farmers, and the Board of Health has already successfully regulated these farmers.

The suggestion that Westport consider rescinding its Right to Farm by-law is the real tragedy at hand. Westport has been able to maintain a strong community due to lack of local government agency interference, and the individuals responsible for implementing our Right to farm Bylaw knew that overreach by local agencies would destroy our farming community. The Town of Lakeville has lost its farms, and is currently attempting to implement its own Right to farm Bylaw. Alderbrook Farms of Dartmouth just last week announced that they were closing their farm, and they were quoted as saying “The ever increasing government rules and regulations have demanded more time and money.” Farms and animal owners already currently being regulated by the state do not need additional town regulations dumped on top of already existing state regulations.

In choosing to ignore the voices present at the recent meetings the Westport Board of Health has poked a sleeping bear. In the future we will be more diligent in whom we put our trust and our votes. A successful change to our Right to Farm Bylaw will shore up the weak foundation in our current Right to Farm Bylaw, and ensure the future of farming in our town for generations to come. We will also set an example for other communities suffering the losses of farms in their towns. We may be a small farming town, but we are a mighty town. And, the supporters of Westport farmers and animal owners that attended the recent meetings made it very clear that they are not willing to lay down the Right to Farm signs that identify our town as a Right to Farm Community.

Sherri Mahoney

Westport

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