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Requesting the power of COTH

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  • Requesting the power of COTH

    Do any of our COTH members have hydrology experience or experience dealing with a Board of Health that has run amok and is using the fear tactic that horses are a health hazard to put in regulations that are so strict, many small farms will be regulated right out of existence?

    Our town is zoned rural/agricultural, with private deep bedrock wells and private septic systems. There are around 160 horses and ponies in a town of 24 square miles. We have a tight set of stable regulations and annual state inspection of our barns. The Animal inspector is diligent and has found and rectified two problems in the past twenty years, and she has recieved no horse related complaints.

    An angry horse owning neighbor who had a fight with her horse owning neighbor has teamed up with a Board of Health member who called horses 'the third rail in town' at a town meeting where the angry neighbor put an article on our warrant to severely limit horse, livestock, chicken and rabbit ownership per acre. The motion failed, but they have gone around the vote by taking up the issue through the Board of Health, which, as she told us at a recent meeting, "Answers only to the Legislature and has power over every Board, Committee and person in town." The same Board of Health member even threatened to have horse owners arrested during an open forum at a Board of Health meeting when they pressed her for documentation on the many complaints she insisted they received. She recently admitted that there were actually no documented complaints, but this has become a divisive, contentious situation with her committee conducting a review of our regulations and recommendations on changes to our Board of Health.

    Horse owners have banded together to save our small farms, which will be severely affected and in some cases eradicated if some of the proposed setbacks, density rules and restrictions are enacted.

    Can any COTH members offer suggestions on helpful studies, sources of support or information on ways you have worked together in such a situation?

    My own farm has had horses on it for 189 years. If the new setbacks and regulations are put in by this overzealous board of health, our beautiful, old barn will finally see the last of the horses it has housed for so many years. It is a terrible thing when a nasty neighbor can try to hurt her neighbor and hurt so many other people at the same time.

  • #2
    May I cross post?
    A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

    Might be a reason, never an excuse...

    Comment


    • #3
      Does your town (and Mass. law) have a "Grandfather clause" which would allow you to keep already existing farms as is?
      Some grandfather clauses allow you to continue to get more animals, and some only allow you to keep the animals that you have at the time new laws are enacted.
      I think people in Calif. towns fought the same battles some years ago, there were articles in Practical Horseman way back when.

      Comment


      • #4
        May I ask where this is taking place?

        Terri
        COTH, keeping popcorn growers in business for years.

        "I need your grace to remind me to find my own." Snow Patrol-Chasing Cars. This line reminds me why I have horses.

        Comment


        • #5
          This sounds familiar - did this problem start months ago?

          Knowing where you are located would help. I think some advice would be contingent on where you live and what the local government structure is.

          Comment

          • Original Poster

            #6
            Yes it did, lcw, and it has been ongoing. We are in MA. There will be grandfathering for current owners, but it is yet to be decided if the grandfathering will be allowed for the next owner of the property. That is still a grey area. When an audience member at the meeting last night tried to address that issue, the Chair of the committee snapped, 'We are not discussing setback issues right now," and refused to answer the question about the damage to property value that these proposed regulations might have on old New England farms with houses close to the barn, barns close to the property line and well, and barns attached to houses. Some very nice, smaller horse properties will not be allowed to house horses for the next owner if some of the proposed limitations are enacted by the Board of Health and grandfathering ends with the current owner.

            Comment


            • #7
              I'm not a hydrologist, or associated in any way with people who would really know the answer to your question.

              But it makes sense to me that if the board of health is taking this on as a health issue, it would be simple enough to test the water from the wells and find out if there is contamination from livestock. But there also could be contamination from the private septic systems. One would hope any contamination could be traced back to the source, and correctly identified as human or animal.

              good luck.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by chai View Post
                "Answers only to the Legislature and has power over every Board, Committee and person in town." The same Board of Health member even threatened to have horse owners arrested during an open forum at a Board of Health meeting when they pressed her for documentation on the many complaints she insisted they received. She recently admitted that there were actually no documented complaints, but this has become a divisive, contentious situation with her committee conducting a review of our regulations and recommendations on changes to our Board of Health.
                It seems like that's your answer right there- are there any horse owners on your legislature?

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Thanks, stryder. There haven't been any contaminated wells from horses here, but the BoH appears to be using this as a fear tactic to promote their effort to limit horse ownership.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I spent several years as a registered lobbyist as part of my previous job. Too many times I encountered a legislative fix to resolve a problem that didn't exist.

                    Keep asking, "where is your evidence that a problem exists?" Keep asking. Never get sucked into the drama of it, but keep focused on the problem. No problem? Then no fix is needed.

                    If there is no evidence of a health problem, then the board of health shouldn't be involved. It could be a zoning issue, or some other issue, but it should not be a board of health issue. There is probably a statement of purpose that defines the role of the health board, and it should limit itself to the scope of that purpose.

                    There are probably fewer animals on the farms today than there were 100 years ago. Old farms would have had more cattle, either beef or dairy. There are probably census or tax documents that enumerate them for you. If animal populations are lower today than 100 years ago, it's difficult to fathom how animal numbers should be curtailed today to protect well water.

                    Again, keep focused on the problem, and demand they produce evidence of a problem.

                    And at some hysterical meeting, take the time to point out to everyone that this really started because Mrs. So-and-so became angry with Mrs. Whats-her-name and this personal vendetta has destroyed the peace and tranquility between neighbors and the community. That it seems wrong to you that the weight and force of the town's governance has been sucked into this little drama between two neighbors. And that even though you've asked and asked, no one has produced any evidence that a health issue actually exists.

                    Do not ever underestimate what one motivated person can do.

                    Good luck.

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Thank you, stryder. That is very helpful. Thanks, too, cloudy, for your suggestions. Buddyroo, please feel free to cross post. I'm just hoping our COTH friends might be able to offer fresh ideas or suggestions. It is sad to see such hard feelings in town over this, as this is a really nice little town with good people. It is a shame that a neighbor dispute blew up into this situation.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Chai-

                        I think your first course of action should be to contact your state horse council.

                        http://www.mahorsecouncil.com/

                        This council is the horseman's voice in your state.

                        If you have an extension agent, that person may also have a great deal of information about dispelling the misinformation that exists about livestock, and how modern farming/animal husbandry can be environmentally sound.

                        The horse council and extension will have loads of information to get you started.

                        Good luck.
                        Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
                        Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
                        -Rudyard Kipling

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Two suggestions...

                          Bring up the issue of what will happen to these properties if these restrictions are in place and no grandfathering is allowed to transfer to new owners -- will the properties be subdivided by developers who will put up McMansions or townhouses? If subdivision is not permitted by zoning, will property values go down if they can't be subdivided nor used for horse pasturing or whatever the original purpose? Make sure people know what unintended consequences may occur. You may gain supporters for your side if people don't want McMansions to sprout (admittedly less likely in the current economic climate, but take the long view!) or property values to go down in their neighborhood.

                          Also, check out the Petlaw list (www.petlaw.com). Yes, it's geared towards dogs and fighting AR extremists, but, it does have good info on how to approach animal-related legislation.

                          Best of luck!!!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            First, I second what Stryder said. There first needs to be a clear definition of a problem.

                            Second, another possible source of info might be the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource, http://www.elcr.org/index.php

                            I am aware, as a member of Back Country Horsemen, that there have been studies over the years regarding various effects of horse manure (on water quality, on spread of noxious weeds, and so forth)- but I don't have that info handy just now, so I would simply recommend a good old Google search to see what you might turn up- I suppose I would start by searching for publications at the EPA and Agriculture Dept web sites.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Laytian View Post
                              Two suggestions...

                              Bring up the issue of what will happen to these properties if these restrictions are in place and no grandfathering is allowed to transfer to new owners -- will the properties be subdivided by developers who will put up McMansions or townhouses? If subdivision is not permitted by zoning, will property values go down if they can't be subdivided nor used for horse pasturing or whatever the original purpose? Make sure people know what unintended consequences may occur. You may gain supporters for your side if people don't want McMansions to sprout (admittedly less likely in the current economic climate, but take the long view!) or property values to go down in their neighborhood.

                              Also, check out the Petlaw list (www.petlaw.com). Yes, it's geared towards dogs and fighting AR extremists, but, it does have good info on how to approach animal-related legislation.

                              Best of luck!!!
                              Ah, the kitchen sink argument. This can work, but I still recommend making the Board of Health define the problem.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                I think Stryder has the best idea. I know I want you on my side if I ever have to go up against the powers that be!

                                It is true that if there is no problem then there is no need for a solution. Turning the tables by mentioning the feuding parties during a meeting where it will become public record is genius!

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Chai

                                  2nd involving the State Horse Council

                                  I don't know if they have a good horse program at your land grant university (1 per state), but they are another source of help. The Cooperative Extension is based through these universities.

                                  If your university isn't too helpful, Rutgers (NJ) Equine Science Center might be have some answers for you. http://esc.rutgers.edu/ Carey Williams is running a program to develop Best Practices. I heard they were looking into some of the setbacks for water etc.

                                  I also think Stryder has the right idea. Better to make it a non-problem needing no solution than finding a solution that limits your freedom to house horses if not needed.

                                  Good luck

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    The Freedom of Information Act is Your Friend

                                    When everyone says get the Health Dept. to prove there is a problem, the way you do it is to make a Freedom of Information request of any and every governmental body that is considering the issue. Ask to see everything and if possible make copies. That is the way you prove, for example, that there are no documented complaints.

                                    In NY there is a state "Right to Farm" law that trumps any local law. I used it when the County highway dept wanted me to abandon an old farm road that was the only access to some hay fields for the haying equipment. I called the Dept. of Agriculture and Markets, they sent someone down to check out the situation, he agreed with me and the Highway Dept. went away.

                                    Whether there's such a law or not, it is still worth getting in touch with your Dept of Agriculture and seeing what advice they have for you.

                                    Also, court the press. Call up the local reporter and make your case. Whenever it comes up in a Town meeting or something, call the reporter and make sure they get your side of the story. Keep in mind that they are overworked, so if you can basically hand the whole story to them they will often use it.

                                    Learn what the rules are for the meetings you attend. I'm on our town's Planning Board, and we do want to hear from the public. But if someone comes in and starts asking us to not approve something because they think it is ugly that isn't persuasive. We can't consider that. Or, there's usually a time for public comment, and outside of that time the public can't speak. It'll save you a lot of time if you understand what a board can and cannot do.

                                    Hope that made sense, I'm fading out and heading to bed!
                                    https://www.facebook.com/SugarMapleFarm
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                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by JSwan View Post
                                      Chai-

                                      I think your first course of action should be to contact your state horse council.

                                      http://www.mahorsecouncil.com/

                                      This council is the horseman's voice in your state.

                                      If you have an extension agent, that person may also have a great deal of information about dispelling the misinformation that exists about livestock, and how modern farming/animal husbandry can be environmentally sound.

                                      The horse council and extension will have loads of information to get you started.

                                      Good luck.
                                      This is exactly where you should start! Enlisting others that could be impacted by those decisions is in your best interest.

                                      Since there is no proof that there is any damage or even potential damages I think they have a tough row to hoe.

                                      It's sad when people develop N.I.M.B. Y. attitudes
                                      "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there"

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        It's really sad that a horseowner started this nonsense. Is she getting out of horses?

                                        Comment

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