By Mae Johnson
Editor’s note: As a part of our ongoing right-to-farm law series, we are happy to have Mae Johnson, Administrator, Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service (ACReS), Maryland Department of Agriculture preparing this post. Maryland’s Right-to-Farm law requires mediation before going to court and ACReS mediates many of these Right-to-Farm disputes. We asked Mae how past mediations have worked involving the Right-to-Farm law to illustrate how neighbors have a voice in the process. Earlier Ashley Newhall posted on what life was like before RTF laws and I will finish up later this week with a post comparing Maryland’s law with other states’ RTF laws.
If you have other issues we should be addressing please, let us know here.
Context: A farmer decided to build more poultry houses to increase his family’s income. His neighbors living nearby became angry as they imagined the increase in smells. The producer felt that he was within his right to use his land to increase his poultry operation. The neighbors felt they were within their rights to enjoy their property without the smell of poultry. Under the County’s Right-to-Farm Ordinance, all purchasers and lessees must receive a statement specifically advising the purchasers or lessees of the existence of the Right-to-Farm Ordinance. Although the homeowners acknowledged the existence of the ordinance, they still felt they had the right to enjoy their property without the existence of poultry odors which they believed would increase with the addition of more poultry houses.
Intervention: The poultry producer and the neighbors were both encouraged by the County Zoning Department to seek mediation with the Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service (ACReS). Because of the number of participants expected, two mediators were assigned to facilitate the discussion between the producer and the neighbors. The producer and 22 of his neighbors attended the mediation session. The mediators explained that everyone would have an opportunity to speak. The producer allowed a representative of the homeowners to speak first. The issue for the homeowners was that they felt that they had the right to enjoy their property without any additional smells. The producer stated that he had plans to expand his business for the purpose of additional income and felt unfairly attacked.
The homeowners raised additional issues related to the existing poultry houses – for example, both the smells and the appearance of the chicken houses affect them. The mediator asked whether the homeowners knew when they purchased that there were moving near the poultry houses. All present acknowledged that they knew. Additionally, the homeowners stated that during the summer months, the smells had grown increasingly unbearable.
After several hours of discussion, the producer explained that he wanted to be a good neighbor, but needed to increase his income due to emerging family issues. The mediators acknowledged the concerns of the homeowners and producer by asking whether anyone had considered any options other than the producer not building additional poultry houses. They stated that they had not. The mediators proposed that they break for 15 minutes and asked them to come back with a suggestion on how to address the smells without limiting the producer’s opportunity to make more money with additional poultry houses.
The group returned. They had conducted internet research, wanted to suggest ways to reduce poultry smells, and presented several options. One option was for the farmer to plant tree and shrub buffers to provide for odor management. The trees and shrubs should be the type which absorb odors. The producer was also encouraged to precipitate out dust by slowing the air speed from exhaust fans. The producer acknowledged that he would consider planting the trees and shrubs depending upon the price. The mediator suggested that the producer be given the opportunity to explore these options. A meeting was scheduled for one week later.
Prior to the second meeting, the producer contacted a representative from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), who discussed windbreak/buffer designs. NRCS assisted the farmer in developing a windbreak design proposal to limit the smell. The producer returned to the meeting with the NRCS representative who explained the proposal. The homeowners were receptive. However, it was noted that the trees and shrubs would take time to mature. The producer stated that to build the total number of poultry houses he proposed would take 2 to 3 years to build. The representative from NRCS provided a list of plants with rapid growth rates.
OUTCOME: The producer agreed to install a Windbreak Buffer Zone. The homeowners decided that they would join together to purchase some trees and shrubs to surround their community for additional odor management.
Note: This is a summary of an effective mediation process provided as an example of a possible resolution. It should be noted that many mediations might include issues that impact the issue defined as the subject of mediation. These issues must be addressed in order to have an effective solution. Information concerning mediation participants is confidential. This example is an example and does not discuss real participants. For a description of Maryland ACReS visit: http://mda.maryland.gov/Pages/acrs.aspx