Outgoing commissioners will take up “Right to Farm” law

MONTESANO — The current edition of the Grays Harbor County commissioners will host one last meeting on Monday, with the big item on the agenda the potential approval of a new “right to farm” ordinance to protect farmers from lawsuits and nuisance complaints over normal farm activity.

It will be the last meeting for County Commissioners Terry Willis and Mike Wilson. The commissioners canceled their regular afternoon meeting, and, instead will meet at 9 a.m. in the commission chambers. Like their regular meetings, it’ll be taped and put online.

A public hearing on the right to farm ordinance will begin shortly after 9 a.m. and Willis says she expects passage that same day.

The state already has a right to farm law, but the county’s version would expand those rights to include forestry programs and aquaculture programs. The Grays Harbor-Pacific County Farm Bureau members have been pushing for the ordinance for almost eight years.

The ordinance would have the county’s Planning & Building division provide a notice to potential new homeowners in farming areas whenever possible. The notice would state: “Citizens and their properties may be subject to conditions arising from such operations, including, but not limited to, odors, flies, dust, smoke, the operation of machinery of any kind during any 24-hour period including aircraft, animals, the storage and transport and disposal of manure as well as traffic, light, noise, mud, changes in appearances of properties, and the application by spraying or otherwise of chemical fertilizers, soil amendments, and pesticides. Grays Harbor County has determined that the use of real property for agricultural, forest and aquaculture operations is a high priority and protected use in the County. Those conditions arising from agricultural, forest and aquaculture operations, if such operations are consistent with commonly accepted good management practices shall not be considered a nuisance unless the activity or practice has a substantial adverse effect on public health and safety.”

Willis said she and former Planning & Building Director Lee Napier have worked on the ordinance for the past few months, distributed it to a work group for changes and emailed it out to an even wider list of recipients. Thus far, only landowner Cheryl Campbell, who has had a dispute with a neighboring property owner in Central Park. Campbell noted that she thought the ordinance would unfairly protect the neighboring forest property owner.

“Why does Grays Harbor County need stronger protections than those already in place?” Campbell wrote to the commissioners and an email list. “What specific provisions of State Code are deemed inadequate or insufficient in application to our county?”

Campbell also points out that the ordinance not only protects farmers and those involved in forestry under current planning provisions, but also “regardless of past or future changes in the surrounding area’s land use or zoning designation.”

”Why limit the provisions by insisting on a phrase that sets an action in stone and prohibits reasonable responses to unforeseen change” she says.

Willis said other work group members have had nothing but positive input on the plan.

“The other commissioners have indicated their support of this ordinance and I would expect that they will support it on Monday,” Willis said.

Willis says she’s supported a right to farm ordinance since she first ran for county commissioner against incumbent Bob Beerbower back in 2004 and she’s trying to get it approved before she leaves office at midnight on Monday.

As it happens, both incoming Commissioners-Elect Frank Gordon and Wes Cormier have already taken their oaths for office. Auditor Vern Spatz said he administered Gordon’s oath on Wednesday and Cormier’s oath on Thursday. They don’t technically take office until Tuesday. And a ceremonial swearing-in will happen at 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7.

“We might have an emergency on Jan. 2 and they will be there to do an emergency meeting, if necessary,” Spatz said.

Spatz said he doesn’t recall the last time current commissioners have continued to conduct meetings until their last day in office.