FORT ANN — There are no state regulations that prevent a small farmer from polluting a stream with cow manure, state officials confirmed after a Fort Ann man was accused of that very action.
State officials said they searched for any possible way to stop Adam Tracy from polluting, because the pollution may have contaminated his neighbor’s well. But, they said, their hands are tied. State laws protect farmers, except in the case of very large commercial enterprises.
That means that even though Tracy’s neighbor’s well has been contaminated with E. coli, the state cannot take any action against Tracy.
“There is no state law that exclusively regulates manure application or manure storage on farms that don’t meet the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) permit thresholds,” said Agriculture & Markets spokewoman Lisa Koumjian.
CAFO permits are for very large farms. For bovines, CAFO permits are required if the farm has more than 200 cows. Tracy has about 20 cows, bulls and heifers.
For small farms, the state has tried to encourage farmers to remove manure or handle it in some way other than simply piling it up. But it’s not required.
“The state has also created the Agricultural Environmental Management Program, a voluntary, incentive-based program, to help farmers of all sizes understand and implement best on-farm practices to reduce their impact on the environment,” Koumjian said.
Fort Ann could choose to add its own rules, but the town has not done so and also has chosen to not add a zoning code.
Koumjian noted other municipalities have taken action by creating a local law that requires manure to be “stored and properly applied to the land at agronomic rates.”
The town supervisor is on vacation in Europe and the deputy supervisor is not speaking for the town about the issue because she is suing Tracy privately. Deputy Supervisor Deborah Witherell is the neighbor whose well has been contaminated.
She said she asked the town not to take action because she wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety, although she did ask the town last year to order Tracy to remove the cows. The town ordered Tracy to remove them, but Tracy challenged the town’s assertion that he was breaking local codes or animal cruelty laws.
He moved the cows for a few months, then brought them back to his land for the winter, and they have remained there ever since. He also vowed to fight the town in court if it tried again to order him to remove the animals. The town has not sent any orders since then.