In a 2-1 vote Monday night, the Todd Township Supervisors approved an ordinance for community bill of rights, as a sign of opposition towards a proposed swine concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).
Supervisors Dennis Runk and William Hall voted in favor of the ordinance, while supervisor Matt Barnett, a farmer in the township, cast the lone “no” vote during the monthly meeting.
The ordinance is part of an effort started by the Todd Township Community Action Group to speak out against CAFOs in the community.
The community bill of rights was written under the advisement of independent legal counsel for the community to adequately speak out against the large farming operations.
During council’s June meeting, the supervisors, also in a 2-1 vote, agreed to post a final advertisement of the ordinance and community bill of rights.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, community action group representative Stephanie Perez cited Article 1, Section 27 of the state Constitution.
“The people have a right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustees of these resources, the commonwealth shall preserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people,” said Perez. “We are the people and we want maintained what is rightfully ours.”
Gary Rae, also with the community action group, spoke in favor of the bill of rights.
“We’re being told that we’re not supposed to be able to do this, but that’s actually denying us of our rights. We were born with those rights and we did everything that we should here. We had a meeting and a democratic vote. What seems to be happening is we have a whole good part of the township that’s saying we don’t want something, but we’re supposed to take it because there’s a law written that says we have to, but those laws aren’t written to protect,” said Rae. “One of the main reasons I want to see this ordinance go through is because we’re stating that we feel if we don’t want it, we should be able to say that we don’t want it.”
Also at the June meeting, residents requested an outside interpretation of the proposed ordinance from non-biased legal counsel. In response, the supervisors reached out for legal counsel and received recommendations based upon legal interpretations of the law. Township secretary Catherine Harshbarger read the letter of recommendation to the supervisors and residents present Monday.
“The proposed ordinance could be subject to litigation because it is an overbroad and vague regulation of activities in Todd Township. The body of the ordinance contains no description or substantial details of the prohibited acts. The purpose of the ordinance appears to be regulation on violations of the law. There are no citations for the assertion of the law in the ordinance. As drafted I believe the ordinance would be unenforceable because it fails to give notice to the public of the types of acts being regulated by the township, nor does Todd Township have the legal authority to regulate violations of law in the legal community of courts,” read Harshbarger.
“The understated purpose of the proposed ordinance seems to be to prevent and regulate the negative impacts of industrial farming on neighboring owners’ use and enjoyment of their property. The pivotal issue is whether Todd Township has the authority to enact such a legislation to regulate industrial farming. Local governments have no independent power to regulate land use and development absent the enabling legislation. The Pennsylvania General Assembly requires municipalities to recognize policies of statewide important when they adopt such ordinance and regulations,” Harshbarger continued.
Harshbarger read the letter in its entirety, with the conclusion that the township was not recommended to enact the ordinance or to adopt the community bill of rights.
Township resident Nancy MacNamara voiced her opinion on the enactment to the supervisors, citing the primary duties of a township supervisor to be the protection of the health and well-being of the citizens of the township.
“This is where you take a stand to do that and see where the cards fall,” said MacNamara. Runk requested a motion to adopt the ordinance and Hall made the motion to accept it.
“I make a motion that we adopt it and do the will of the people of Todd Township,” said Hall. Barnett spoke in opposition of the ordinance and refused to second Hall’s motion.
After pleading from the crowd, Runk agreed to second the motion.
Following the vote, the audience erupted in clapping and cheering.
Todd Township meets at 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month in the township building. Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.