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Hartford public hearing

Hartford Ordinance Enforcement Officer Mark Miller, left, shares photographic evidence of a massive pile of decaying cows and horses on a Hartford farm during a public hearing on the matter this week. 

HARTFORD — Earlier this week, the Town Board gave two local men 30 days to remove more than 240 decaying animal carcasses from a Hartford farm or risk thousands of dollars in fines per day after the deadline for noncompliance.

And if the 200-foot-long by 25-foot-wide by 6-foot-high windrow of dead cows and horses is not removed, the board agreed on Tuesday that the town will go onto the property to remove all the carcasses and waste because it is a dangerous situation and poses a safety hazard.

“They must remove the animals within the time set or the town may go in and remove the animals and then bill that charge,” said Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff prior to the board’s vote on the resolution. “If the bill is unpaid after 30 days, (it can be) assessed to the collection of taxes.”

Nonetheless, town Councilwoman Elizabeth Foote said she was concerned about the expense of removal.

“If they don’t do it and the Town Board takes on the responsibility, that’s a huge cost,” Foote said.

Adjacent property owners Dick and Nancy Armstrong reported the decomposing carcasses to the state Department of Environmental Conservation last month after a snowmobiler brought the mass of dead animals to their attention.

Frustrated by the DEC’s lack of action, the Armstrongs took further action and also testified at Tuesday’s public hearing.

In late March and early April, Hartford Enforcement Officer Mark Miller served residents Larry Burch and Charles and Lois Potter with cease-and-desist orders regarding the dead animals discovered on a remote section of the Potters’ 301-acre Northrup Lane farm.

Burch, known locally for picking up dead farm animals for a fee ($125 to $400 per animal), was bringing the dead cows and horses to the Potters’ Hartford farm, Charles Potter said in an earlier interview.

But according to Hartford law, the disposal or stockpiling of dead animals on Hartford property is in violation of the solid waste and dumping ordinance.

“This matter is being handled by local authorities. The department’s field veterinarian is assisting authorities to confirm that corrective actions are being taken,” said state Department of Agriculture and Markets spokeswoman Jola Szubielski on Friday afternoon. “Farms must obey local laws and ordinances pertaining to zoning and any environmental requirements, and must dispose of their animals properly according to Article 26 of Agriculture and Markets Law.”

This is not the first time Burch has had legal entanglements regarding the disposal of dead animals. In 2009, Greenwich took a similar action, barring him from disposing of the carcasses in Greenwich.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Mary Rahl testified that she paid Burch $250 for a respectful burial of her beloved horse.

“I had a horse that was taken away to be buried by Larry Burch this summer. It was my husband’s horse and I am very, very concerned after listening to this that my horse was not given a proper burial in dirt that I paid for,” Rahl said. “I fear she is in a ditch somewhere where she was disrespected and she was with me for almost 30 years.”

During the hearing, a Hartford resident said that he had grown up around farming and that animals die on farms.

“It’s a way of life,” he said. “They have to be disposed of somewhere.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that farm animals must be disposed in a manner that is safe to the public, and the Department of Agriculture and Markets states dead large animals can be rendered, properly buried or composted.

According to researchers at the Cornell Waste Management Institute, properly composting a farm animal on a farmer’s own property should happen at least 200 feet away from streams and water sources and be done within 72 hours of the animal’s death, especially when the animal has been euthanized because of the drugs that could poison wildlife, birds, domestic animals and humans.

Researchers explain that with composting, the dead animal is placed in the middle of a large 2-foot-deep bed of carbon material, like large wood chips, and then topped with an additional 2 feet of carbon material, completely covering the animal.

It takes between $125 and $400 for the materials necessary to compost a 1,200-pound horse, about the same cost to take a similar-size animal to a certified landfill.

The animals found on Potters’ land have not been buried or composted and, according to Miller, have been there for some time.

Additionally, Hartford law supersedes the state law; commercial composting and burial are not approved.

During the meeting, Haff said officials could take the animal remains to a licensed landfill with costs averaging nearly $100 a ton. If Potter and Burch were to take nearly 300 animals to a licensed landfill, it could cost nearly $100,000, plus the cost of transportation, to dispose of the animals.

Miller, the Hartford enforcement officer, said Tuesday that officials would likely need a specially prepared truck, explaining it would need to be lined and topped to prevent waste contamination of towns and villages they would be driving through.

Tuesday’s public hearing was held to determine if Burch and and the Potters violated the town law.

“The local law, chapter 71, was extensively researched at the time it was adopted and the prohibitions that are contained within the local law are based on DEC recommendations and scientific research,” said Town Attorney Jeff Meyer, explaining how it relates to any action the board may take.

After hearing testimony and examining photographic evidence, the board unanimously agreed that the rotting animals on the Potters’ farm posed an unsafe situation.

And in one of three related resolutions, the board ordered the Potters and Larry Burch to immediately cease disposing, processing or burying animal carcasses and special waste on the property and to remove them from Hartford.

Supervisor Haff initially proposed a two-week deadline for the removal of the carcasses and resultant waste from Hartford.

But public outbursts regarding the proposed time frame led to additional discussion.

“You want to be more realistic on the date,” a woman sitting next to Charles Potter called out.

Councilman Gary Burch referred to the town law.

“The town law says a reasonable amount of time. I don’t think two weeks is reasonable for that number of animals,” said the councilman. “I don’t know what would be a reasonable amount of time. I’m not an expert on the disposing of dead carcasses, but if the numbers are what they say they are, it’s going to take almost double that, within 30 days.”

The board agreed to the May 7 deadline.

Potter said he would not comment on the situation, because he needs to get a lawyer.

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Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli covers Washington County government and other county news and events.

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