Who are they really helping?
While New York State will only disclose that living in an Agricultural District may expose residents to “activities that cause noise, dust and odors,” the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has expressed the opinion that laws in an Agricultural District “may be inadequate for ensuring the safety of our environment and for protecting citizens from serious injury.”
The current New York Agricultural District Disclosure Form and Notice helps rural real estate agents sell properties, protects the image of Industrial Farming, and ensures higher assessments for taxing authorities, but its blatant non-disclosure of modern farming methods and iniquitous Agricultural Laws encourage prospective buyers to assume the risks of “serious injury” and financial disaster for themselves and their families — without being made aware that these risks even exist.
New York State refuses to take reasonable steps to ensure that prospective rural property buyers understand the financial and health risks of living in an Agricultural District; so that they are in a position to make an informed decision.
Updating New York’s Agricultural District Disclosure Form and Notice is an essential step in obtaining Social Justice for the rural community.
05/20/2019 –a detailed letter pleading the case for the health and well-being of the rural community and requesting help in disclosing the risks of living in an Agricultural District was sent to County and State representatives and oversight authorities by Certified Mail.
All of them either did not respond, responded flatly that they “had no authority” or passed it off to another department where it was never heard of again.
The following text is from the letter:
“I am writing you to request that you update the New York State Agricultural District Disclosure Form and Notice to ensure that prospective buyers understand the financial and health risks of living in an Agricultural District so that they are in a position to make an informed decision.
From the NYS Agricultural District Disclosure Form and Notice:
‘This disclosure notice is to inform prospective residents that the property they are about to acquire lies partially or wholly within an agricultural district and that farming activities occur within the district. Such farming activities may include, but not limited to, activities that cause noise, dust and odors.’
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [Mather v. Willet Dairy] in finding against plaintiffs suffering from the effects of manure off-gassing that included brain damage in one child and the surgical removal of eyelids in an adult commented:
‘We recognize that limiting citizen suits in this respect can cause serious injury to persons living near environmental dangers if the DEC and other environmental regulatory agencies are unable to monitor and sanction polluters effectively before compliance deadlines. Given that Willet Dairy had more than seven years before it was required to comply fully with its permit, that means no citizen could have brought a suit over that entire time for CWA violations. Such regulatory agencies may be unable to ensure that polluters are acting in accordance with their compliance schedules, given the numerous violations likely to occur. Consequently, limiting the ability of ‘private attorneys general’ to bring suit until after compliance deadlines may be inadequate for ensuring the safety of our environment and for protecting citizens from serious injury. But that is the remedy that Congress has provided and to which we are bound.’
Manure lagoons have been shown to harbor and emit over 400 VOCs and toxic gases [including Hydrogen Sulfide and Methane], more than 150 dangerous pathogens [including E. coli, Cryptosporidium and Anthrax], growth hormones, heavy metals, antimicrobials and antibiotics.
Particulate matter from agricultural sources contains up to 100 times the amount of bacteria and fungi as normal air.
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites the threat of antibiotic resistance:
‘When animals are given antibiotics for growth promotion or increased feed efficiency, bacteria are exposed to low doses of these drugs over a long period of time. This is inappropriate antibiotic use and can lead to the development of resistant bacteria.’
‘Resistant germs from the animal gut can also get into the environment, like water and soil, from animal manure.’
Although decades of scientific reports have expressed concern for the health of neighbors impacted by agricultural activities and cited the need for further investigation, no comprehensive or long-term studies have ever been made.
Many Agricultural District wells have been polluted through manure spills and other agricultural activities. Buyers need to be informed that well owners are solely responsible for the safety and quality of their well water [and that remedies, such as reverse osmosis and drinking bottled water are very expensive.]
Prospective buyers need also to be made aware that ‘satellite’ lagoons containing millions of gallons of liquid manure may be constructed next to rural residences on any land owned or bought by a farm and at the sole discretion of the farmer.
And that in an Agricultural District the ‘right of use and enjoyment’ of the buyer’s property will be effectively subordinated to any agricultural activity designated as a ‘sound agricultural practice’ by the New York Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets.
From the NYS Agricultural District Disclosure Form and Notice:
‘Prospective purchasers are urged to contact the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to obtain additional information or clarification regarding their rights and obligations under Article 25-AA of the Agricultural and Markets Law.’
Looking for clarification of risks associated with living in an Agricultural District, I called the number listed on the Ag and Markets webpage. I was answered by an operator at the NYS Dept. of Ag and Markets Call Center. The operator was surprised and said she didn’t get calls about this. After a couple of minutes of research, she forwarded me to Land and Water Resources where someone there put me through to another party to answer my questions. He stated it was a ‘complicated law’ and spoke of ‘farmers seeking protection’ from towns and neighbors and restrictive laws.
When I pressed him about the health risks, he stated everything was on a ‘case by case’ basis, and if I identified the parcel there might be some hazardous material sheets, but I should really get in touch with the Agricultural District Coordinator from Cornell Cooperative Extension. Recognizing the name of the Coordinator, and having had issues with that person’s assertion that nobody but farmers deserved to live in North Lansing, I stopped the bureaucratic handoff at this point.
According to real estate professionals; this disclosure notice is not presented to a prospective buyer until the time the contract for the offer is being drawn up.
Given the late timing of its presentation, the lack of meaningful disclosure within the Notice itself, and my inability to ‘obtain additional information or clarification regarding their rights and obligations’ — the NYS Agricultural District Disclosure Form and Notice is a document whose purpose is to limit the warranty of prospective buyers without their knowledge.
If this is an oversight, it can be fixed. If it’s deliberate, it’s an unconscionable contract.
Please let me know what steps you plan to take to correct this.”
An unconscionable contract is one that is so one-sided or so unfair that it shocks the conscience. The two main factors that determine unconscionability are both present:
Bargaining power, i.e., oppression - One party will have bargaining power over another party if the disadvantaged party is less knowledgeable in the industry: The increased scope of modern agricultural methods and their serious documented impact on property owners in an Agricultural District is never mentioned.
Unfair terms, i.e., surprise - Another example of unfair terms would be hidden language found in the contract. Such hidden language will almost always constitute unfairness, particularly if the disadvantaged party was unaware of the verbiage in the agreement: The overriding policy of Agricultural Law; that it can subordinate the “right of use and enjoyment” of your property, remove the right of remediation of damage, and the protection of your family from any action deemed a “sound agricultural practice” is never even hinted at in the form’s 150 word gloss-over.
08/25/2019 – I emailed the text of the letter [with a copy of the Agricultural Disclosure form attached] to the members of the County Legislature.
After an initial positive response and an indication of willingness to at least add a supplemental County disclosure statement, everything went silent.
11/19/2019 – I received an email stating that the Legislature had handed the matter over to the local Board of Realtors and the County Ag and Farm Protection Committee, both of whom were referred to as the “stakeholders,” and that my “concerns and suggestions” had been “passed on.” The prospective rural property buyers — in spite of the size of their vested interest, and being the most directly affected; were never referred to as being stakeholders — they were never mentioned at all.
Just as in the Deadly Drift herbicide complaint, the decision to take any action was left in the hands of the same people who had the most to lose if any action on the misconduct was taken. No “conflict of interest” concerns were ever expressed by any County Legislator.
It’s the same pattern of behavior that “people in a position of public trust” in New York State exhibit on every rural issue. It’s the boot mark of Urban Colonialism.
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