Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Right-to-Farm Law

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(Host) A feud between neighbors landed in the Vermont Supreme Court yesterday in a test of Vermont’s Right to Farm Act. The law is designed to protect farm operations from nuisance suits that might arise from encroaching development and complaints about the smells and sounds of normal farm operations. The case was argued before the court at its annual session at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The suit was filed by George and Carol Trickett. The Tricketts own an old farmhouse in Orwell, which they plan to convert into a bed and breakfast. The house is directly across a dirt road from an orchard and apple packing operation owned by Peter and Carla Ochs. The Tricketts claim an expansion of the Ochs business is a threat to public health and safety because of pollution, noise and truck traffic.

Abby Moskovitz is the Ochs’ lawyer. Her argument that the law gives farms broad protections brought a response from Justice Denise Johnson:

(Moskovitz) “The Right to Farm Statute says if a nuisance suit is filed against an agricultural activity, stop where you are, look at that agricultural activity. Was this agricultural activity here first, and is it in compliance with the laws? And if it is, they can do whatever they want pretty much…”

(Justice Johnson) “That concerns me a great deal that they can do whatever they want. Because it seems like the position your taking on this statute leaves a lot of unregulated behavior.”

(Zind) Justice John Dooley asked the lawyer for the plaintiffs if the orchard should be prevented from implementing changes and forced out of business, even if the farm was there first. Dooley cited the lower court ruling in favor of the orchard owners and pointed out that the surrounding area has always been in farming:

(Dooley) “And all that happened is that your clients moved in and bought the old farmhouse, not for farm purposes, which it was, but in order to have a residence and run a bed and breakfast. And that’s what caused the conflict.”

(Zind) The lawyer for the plaintiffs told the justices that their case is about public safety and isn’t the kind of nuisance suit the Right to Farm Act is designed to protect farms from. It’s not clear when the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the case.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in South Royalton.

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