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E-M:/ New farm law article & impact comments..

Enviro-Mich message from "Rita Jack" <ritaj@flint.umich.edu>

Dear Enviro-Mich Folks -
Here's more feedback on the new farm law...
-Rita Jack

New farm law worries township officials By SUSAN TEMERE 
Capital News Service Friday, January 21, 2000  

LANSING--The 2000 Census is expected to find 50 percent of 
Michigan's population living in townships. That means a 
controversial new farm law could have long-term consequences for half
the population of the state.  

Revisions to the Right To Farm Act, which take effect March 10, 
prohibit local ordinances that affect agriculture without state 
approval. The state Department of Environmental Quality will now
decide agriculture regulations for townships.  

"The new law is extremely broad in removing local authority from the
township," said John La Rose, executive director of the Michigan
Townships Association (MTA). "The state can take over a township's
authority when it wants to at the behest of businesses and industry." 

Special interests will potentially influence state government on
township agricultural issues, La Rose said. They include real estate
agents, builders, developers, chambers of commerce, the Michigan Farm
Bureau and large scale industrial farms.  

"A coalition of sorts exists out there to change the way townships
grow, such as the issue of urban sprawl," La Rose said. If an industry
or interest group opposes a township's master plan on agriculture or
cannot get something zoned its way, it can influence the state to
preempt or overturn the township's regulations.  

Rep. Stephen A.J. Vear, R-Hillsdale, disagreed. "Townships still have
zoning authority to keep out expanded farm operations. Townships also
have planning opportunities to limit the number of animals per acre." 

Vear recommended that townships develop a county-wide plan, 
which interest groups must accept.  

The unanswered question, La Rose said, is: "How shall the state 
become involved in the way open land is used for growth and 

Most interest groups have money to contribute to the campaigns of
elected officials, such as legislators and governors, he said, but
townships don't have the funds to influence candidates.  

As an example, it will be more difficult for townships to control the
large-scale farms known as consolidated animal feeding operations,
opening the door to so-called "factory farms," he contended.  

One main issue with factory farms is animal waste. For example, a
confined animal feed lot with 5,000 cattle produces 125,000 cubic
yards of waste to be disposed of a year. That would fill a cube as
tall, wide and deep as a 15-story building.  

La Rose said it's not yet known how the state will handle the waste
disposal problem now that local governments such as townships can't
cite farmers for environmental violations.  

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce supports the new law, 
according to Rich Studley, its senior vice president for government
relations. "The new act is intended to encourage farms in the
agriculture business to use responsible practices and to protect them
from overzealous units of local government."  

Studley said he doesn't think the law will open the door for huge
industrial farms. "That wasn't the intent and won't be the effect.
Those farms are already under way in Michigan."  

The MTA objected to the way the law was herded through the 
Legislature late last year because townships were not given an 
opportunity to challenge it in committee hearings, said Patricia Mc
Avoy, its director of legislative affairs.  

Family farmers who opposed the proposal also were denied the 
opportunity to testify, Mc Avoy said. Their opposition was based in
part on fear that huge industrial farms would drive them out of

Term limits contributed to the passage of the law, according to Mc
Avoy. That's because of the departure of experienced legislators who
had developed a philosophical understanding of the importance of local
government. New legislators brought to office by term limits have not
acquired that understanding yet, she said.  

"The new law is such a joke," said incoming MTA President Gloria
Maichele of Emmett Township near Battle Creek. The state's prevailing
emphasis has been on better township planning and stewardship but the
new law wipes all that out, Maichele said.

Matthew Malone-GIS Analyst
Center for Applied 
Environmental Research (CAER)
The University of Michigan-Flint
------- End of forwarded message -------

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