NY Dept. of Agriculture & Markets Enforces Right to Farm
Biosolids Use in western NY Town Upheld

On August 26th, the New York State agriculture department (DAM) enforced the state's "right-to-farm" provisions by telling the Town of Bennington not to enforce its ban on land application of biosolids (treated sewage sludge).  The request for DAM review was instigated when Travco Farms was denied by the Town its right to use biosolids from nearby quasar energy group anaerobic digestion facilities.  Bennington's Local Law No. 1, created in 2014, "prohibits the disposal of any sludge, sewage sludge, or septage from sources outside of the Town of Bennington."  The local law is, essentially, illegal.  

Bennington lies just to the east of Marilla, which, just last month, lost in its effort to restrict biosolids use.  The court in that case found determined that biosolids use is an accepted agricultural activity (see NEBRA news story of 8/31/15).

The NY law, AML 305-a, requires that "local governments, when exercising their powers to enact and administer comprehensive plans and local laws, ordinances, rules or regulations,... shall not unreasonably restrict or regulate farm operations within agricultural districts in contravention of the purposes of this article unless it can be shown that the public health or safety is threatened.... The commissioner, upon his or her own initiative or upon the receipt of a complaint from a person within an agricultural district, may bring an action to enforce the provisions of this subdivision."  (More about New York's "right-to-farm" law.)

Travco Farms requested state DAM review in December 2014.  The Town of Bennington responded initially, but then failed to provide "any further documentation or other evidence... that the public health or safety is threatened by the farm operation's proposed application of biosolids," according to the DAM decision.

The two recent decisions in western NY towns, one by a court and one by the agriculture department, uphold use of biosolids as a protected agricultural practice that cannot be arbitrarily denied a farmer.  These findings will likely make it difficult for other New York towns to enforce severe restrictions on biosolids use.