The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 7, 2003


BOH animal regs stir strong opposition

It was standing room only for the roughly 75 people, mostly horse owners, who attended the board of health (BOH) meeting on February 27 for a discussion of its draft of animal management regulations. The atmosphere was tense from the start. Board members had worked hard to outline procedures for licensing and keeping animals · and this was their seventeenth draft. Animal owners were concerned that the BOH approach was too detailed, too intrusive, too expensive and would present unnecessary difficulties for most owners. By the end of the evening, both sides had their say, but remained miles apart in their view of appropriate regulations for Carlisle.

Animal owners await permission to comment on the board of health's proposed new animal management regulations. (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)

In the beginning

At a BOH meeting a year ago, on January 22, 2002, then-chair Steve Opolski explained that state law requires the BOH to license and regulate barns and stables if the town population is greater than 5,000 people. (Carlisle Town Clerk Sarah Andreassen claims that there are currently more than 5,000 people living in Carlisle. The state, which is behind in its count, lists the Carlisle population as less than 5,000.) "We're not experts on stables," said Opolski at the time, expressing his desire to seek guidance from residents in reaching some sensible regulations. Opolski explained that, unlike other bylaws, the regulations of the BOH are not voted by Town Meeting. State law says that the town cannot legislate health regulations.

In the intervening months, the board discussed the proposed regulations at numerous sessions, with approximately 15-20 animal owners in attendance. Recent meetings were frequently confrontational. According to BOH administrator Linda Fantasia, the audience was often very vocal and sometimes rude to board members.

Ground rules announced

Anticipating a repeat of its last meeting, where the board felt badgered by frequent interruptions from the audience, chair Martha Bedrosian began by announcing the meeting protocol. In the first hour, board members would discuss the draft document point by point, but would not take questions from the audience until later in the evening. Wayne Davis of Concord Street, spokesman for the group of animal owners, asked to present an alternative approach to licensing animal facilities, suggesting that a point by point discussion would not address their issues. Bedrosian refused the request, eliciting a loud rumble from the crowd.

BOH draft: licenses, setbacks, management plans

The current draft of regulations states that owners of animals, other than domestic animals kept in the home (dogs, cats, birds, etc.), are required to:

· obtain an annual license;

· pay fees for the license and inspections;

- file a location plan, conforming to defined setbacks for animal areas, manure stock piles, storage areas, and compost piles, and describing how animals will be confined;

- file a written manure management plan.

There are additional regulations for keeping bees, swine, and fowl.

The board discussed the document, making a few changes. Board member Lisa Davis Lewis felt the section on "Manure Management Plan" required some more words rather than just, "A written proposal for manure management including location of manure stockpile and method of disposal is required." She also felt that the section on grandfathering (current facilities would be grandfathered) should be more specific. The document should explain the role of grandfathering when a person sells the property. It should answer the question, "Does the property continue to be grandfathered under the animal regulations after it changes owners?"

Alternative proposal: regulate manure only

In the meantime, the audience, which had been cool and restrained, grew increasingly impatient. A few tried to comment on the board's discussion and were reprimanded by the chair. When the board turned to the audience for questions, Davis spoke first, explaining that a number of animal owners had met earlier in the week to discuss the draft document. There were some constructive ideas presented and the owner's meeting concluded that a different approach should be considered. "The only public health issue is manure management. Why impose a whole lot of bureaucracy on the town?" he asked.

Davis outlined three points:

1. State law requires towns with greater than 5,000 people requires the town to issue a license for animal and stable use. Though some towns have chosen to ignore the law, Davis suggested that Carlisle should keep the licenses simple and quick.

2. Manure management is critical and a BOH matter. There are some regulations on the books already. The manure should be measured in volume, not in cords, as specified in the draft document. "We don't burn manure," added Davis.

3. The BOH has acknowledged most animal management problems have been neighbor to neighbor.

Davis reviewed animal complaints over the last 16 years and found only 14 complaints, ten of which involved neighbor-to-neighbor disputes, two involved animal regulation issues, and the rest were issues with raccoons and other wild animals. Great Brook Farm had a serious issue with some dog owners and resolved the problem by an education program for dog owners. No town action was required.

Barney Arnold of Lowell Street seconded Davis' remarks, stating that she did not want the town to get in the business of telling people how to care for animals. The key and only important BOH issue, she claimed, is manure management.

Impact on property value

Carlisle realtor Brigitte Senkler said that a buyer who pays a high price for property expects to be able to do something with the land. "Animals should be here," she said, adding that any negative effect on people's property should come from a Town Meeting decision and not just the current BOH members. In 30 years of selling houses in town Senkler has encountered no problems from animal waste, including properties where stables are right next to wells. However, the use of pesticides on green lawns is a matter Senkler felt the BOH should focus on.

"What in the regulations would cause property values to drop?" asked Opolski. Senkler replied that explaining complex regulations to new owners will turn them off. Lots are not perfect squares, but come in odd shapes with ledge and wetlands, which is the essence of Carlisle.

Path forward

Bedrosian says that the board does not have a timetable for a formal review and enactment of the regulations. The BOH will continue to work on further revisions of the animal management document at its next meeting on March 13. The board has invited Paul Sellew of Shady Brook Lane, a sewage and manure composting specialist and consultant to the group of Carlisle animal owners, to speak at the meeting.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito