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HARTFORD — When Hartford Ordinance Enforcement Officer Mark Miller inspected a massive dump of dead farm animals with a state field veterinarian on Tuesday, torrential rains were rushing through hundreds of rotting carcasses recently discovered on a local farm.

“While we were there, because it was a torrential downpour, the water coming down the road was washing through all these decaying, rotting cows going right down the hill,” said Miller during a Hartford Town Board public hearing on the matter on Tuesday night. “And that runs right down and comes across the field, runs down below and right into the creek that goes down to the canal.”

The resultant animal waste, if carried by the rain water into the canal, is traveling on a path eventually reaching Lake Champlain.

According to Miller, Dr. Roger Ellis, a field veterinarian with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets in Granville, said he was going to relay the information about the runoff from the decaying mounds of cows and horses to the state Department of Environmental Conversation.

On Wednesday, Ellis said he could not comment and the request for information must first go through the state office. The Department of Agriculture and Markets had not returned a Post-Star request for comment by late Wednesday afternoon.

“We noticed another area behind the long row of cows that looks like it had been covered over some and it had a bunch of bones sticking out of that too,” said Miller on Tuesday night. “There’s even more than what we thought. Those are all decayed and rotted and all that’s left are bones. So we went farther down the road and there was another pile that looked like there was a smaller animal, maybe a sheep, but that (pile) is not connected with the 200-foot long windrow of animal carcasses.”

Following Tuesday’s public hearing, the Hartford Town Board unanimously passed a resolution ordering the removal of hundreds of dead cows and horses, located in a secluded ravine on Charles and Lois Potter’s 301-acre farm, by May 7.

The Potters and Larry Burch, also of Hartford, were served with cease-and-desist orders with an April 4 deadline to remove the animal remains. But Tuesday night’s public hearing set the new May deadline.

Burch, who gets paid between $125 and $400 to remove dead animals from area farms, has been told on several occasions that he cannot stockpile, dump or bury the carcasses in Hartford, said Miller, adding that it’s now apparent the dumping on the Potter farm has been going on for a long time.

When Miller served Burch with the cease-and-desist order, Burch and two other men were moving the cows into prepared holes, he said.

“Larry was digging with his backhoe. I stopped Larry and told him he was in violation of the two town laws and that he had to stop,” Miller said. “He said that no town laws existed to keep him from dumping the cows and burying them. I reminded him that there are town laws pertaining to the dumping of cows and that I have had him remove cows from the town before.

“He said that he was 86 years old,” Miller continued. “And that we were trying to keep him from making a living and what was he supposed to do with the cows?”

Adjacent landowners Dick and Nancy Armstrong, who first contacted the DEC in mid-March after a snowmobiler discovered the mounds of bones and decaying carcasses, said they are concerned about vultures, predators, heath and water contamination from the dead animals.

According to researchers, dogs, wild animals, birds, vultures and even eagles have been fatally poisoned from people leaving carcasses in a field, shallow graves or uncovered in landfills.

“There is concern that drugs used in the livestock industry, as feed additives and veterinary therapies, do not degrade readily and will persist in compost or leachate, threatening environmental exposure to wildlife, domestic animals and humans,” the scientists concluded in their study.

Town Attorney Jeff Meyer said the Hartford ordinances pertaining to dead animals and animal waste have been well researched.

“The prohibitions contained within the local law are based on DEC recommendations and scientific research,” Meyer said in the hearing. “(This) is in relation to public health risk and contaminating water supplies and conduction of disease and wildlife carrying it off and becoming sick.”

Nancy Armstrong admitted that it was difficult to take action against their neighbor, but it became such a problem they had to take steps.

“I speak more about the vultures. They are eating the dead animals,” Nancy Armstrong said. “We did see carcasses down there and you can see the vulture droppings. If they are eating it and dropping it and spreading it, that’s a concern of mine. And it should be for all of us.”

Miller also talked about vultures and coyotes during the hearing.

“I noticed, looking at those pictures, there’s these white lines across the carcasses and to me that represents vultures and vulture (droppings),” Miller said. “That’s a much larger bird. One of the things I mentioned to Larry, ‘Are the coyotes getting into them, are the vultures?’ My wife and I live right across the valley from this and we have seen a tremendous increase in vultures this year and now this gives us a good idea why.”

According to Nancy Armstrong, they have been seeing coyotes closer and closer to their house.

“One night we were sitting outside, they were right near the barn, on our property, up close. … My biggest concern is water contamination,” she said. “With this spring and the runoff that we’ve had … we have a very grave concern that it could be reaching the trout streams and running along Route 149 and into the canal. We’ve seen this burial site grow and grow and grow and the pile the other day made us sick.”

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

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