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by Faith DeAmbrose
It was standing room only in the Brooksville public service building as residents turned out on February 17 to discuss three ordinances that are coming to a referendum vote as part of the annual town meeting process. During the 90-minute meeting, equal time was spent discussing a “Local Food and Community Self-governance Ordinance,” a “Wireless Communications Facilities Ordinance,” and an “Aerial and Air-carrier Blueberry Spraying Ordinance.”
The public hearing comes two weeks after an informational meeting, at which similar discussions transpired.
Local Food and Community Self-governance Ordinance
Evans said “new rules and regulations come down the pike every day,” and the ordinance is designed to be “a tool” to aid small farms and to give local legislators the support needed to make changes in Augusta. She explained that the intent of the ordinance was to preserve traditional farming practices and to ensure that small-scale farmers have the ability to sell to willing consumers.
Evans challenged three points made by the town’s ordinance review committee, a committee that voted not to recommend the passage of the ordinance.
She countered the committee’s opinion that the ordinance is “not the proper tool,” that “it is unenforceable,” and “it opens the town to potential liability issues and legal costs.”
Taking each point one by one, Evans laid out arguments to the contrary. When she was finished she received a round of applause.
Also speaking in support of the ordinance’s passage was resident Rob Shetterly, who said the ordinance is about the protection of a person’s rights, “especially around the way we grow food and how it is distributed.”
Resident Anne Ferrara said she was “speaking for the young farmers,” and the potential that increased regulation will have on their ability to grow, process and distribute their crops. Ferrara also raised concern about where food comes from and the effect it has on the environment because of the distance it has to travel.
While most people who spoke were in favor of the passage of the ordinance, resident John Eysenbach expressed concern about “where this is going,” adding, “I think we are headed down the road of making this the People’s Republic of Brooksville.”
Wireless Communications Facilities Ordinance
In striking a balance between the needs of the community and the needs associated with the advancement of technology, most every comment made about the Wireless Communication and Facilities Ordinance said the document did a reasonable job of striking this balance.
Resident and meeting moderator Robert Vaughn took the opportunity to speak to the ordinance first, noting that it would be best in terms of keeping the meeting moving forward. “The most consistent complaint,” said Vaughn, that he has heard about the communication towers is about the lights, “and keeping the height limit to 190 feet means no lights.” For this and other reasons, Vaughn said he would support its passage.
When asked a question about the board of selectmen and the moratorium that is in effect, selectman John Gray said the board did not have an agenda when they enacted a moratorium on communication towers and aimed only to provide time for the town to hold discussions and figure out a way forward. He said he personally thought the ordinance “is reasonable.”
Aerial and Air-carrier Blueberry Spraying Ordinance
She said that upon further examination, the ordinance contains two omissions that needed to be changed in order to strengthen the language in relation to pesticide use and an exemption for organic growers. She suggested passing the ordinance and then later amending it to clarify the changes she discussed.
Some in attendance expressed concern the ordinance went “too far” while others didn’t think it went far enough. The majority of those cited the potential toxicity of the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on the fields.
Simeon Allen of the Allen blueberry family said his family business manages blueberry land in town and answered many of the questions asked by providing information about land management practices and approaches to spraying used by his company.
Allen said his company would share information and answer questions if people wanted to call his office. He said he does not receive calls from the community on a regular basis, but believes that would be a better way to deal with the situation, rather than enacting an ordinance.
When asked, Allen listed the chemicals used by the blueberry company, which then prompted a discussion about the potential side effects of those particular chemicals.
While some residents said that blueberry spraying has always been a practice in this area and to date has been done without harm, others were quick to counter that line of thought. Rob Shetterly said he wasn’t buying the notion that “we have lived this long, it hasn’t affected us.” Shetterly said that, in his opinion, pesticides and herbicides have caused destruction of habitats and polluted the bodies of people who now carry “250 to 300 chemicals” in the body “that should not be there.” Shetterly added that “while maybe this has not affected you personally, it has affected the total system of our world.”