Douglas wants legislative review of right to farm law

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is concerned that a recent state Supreme Court decision may make it harder for farms to survive. He says he wants the Legislature to re-examine the state’s right to farm law, which was designed to protect farms from lawsuits brought by neighbors.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Supreme Court last week ruled that Vermont’s right to farm law doesn’t apply in the case of a lawsuit brought against an Orwell apple operation.

On Thursday, Governor Douglas joined a growing chorus of farmers and farm advocates who have called on the Legislature to strengthen the statute.

(Douglas) “The apple industry has had some tough years for weather and competitive reasons and we don’t need another blow to farmers as they try to succeed. It’s important to me to maintain the degree of agriculture in our state as an important part of our economy. But more than that, it’s part of our heritage, it’s part of our culture, it what preserves the natural beauty of Vermont. And we don’t need to make it harder than it already is. So I expect to work with Secretary Kerr and farm organizations to design something for the Legislature to consider.”

(Dillon) The Supreme Court decision came in a case brought by George and Carole Trickett. The Orwell residents sued the orchard owners for creating an unlawful nuisance. The Tricketts charged that over the years the apple operation expanded to a warehouse and shipping business that operates almost around the clock. They said diesel trucks idle just a few feet from their bedroom and that pesticides have contaminated their groundwater.

George Trickett says his neighbor runs an industrial packing operation that shouldn’t get special protection under the law. He wants the governor to come down and take a look.

(Trickett) “I can tell you that if the average Vermonter, including farmers, experienced what we experienced in this house for the last seven or eight years, they would definitely say they didn’t want that kind of neighbor. So the question is you cannot have a law that protects farmers regardless, anymore than you can have a law that says people can speed on the highway and they whatever they want. If you speed on the highway, you’re stopped and fined. If you abuse another person’s rights it should be exactly the same.”

(Dillon) The Supreme Court says the right to farm law was designed to stop lawsuits filed when development creeps in on agriculture land.

But the court said the Tricketts were there before the Orwell apple business expanded. And the court said the law does not necessarily protect a farm when it expands after neighbors move in. The high court sent the case back to Addison Superior Court for trial.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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