Northborough administrator discusses proposed agriculture composting amendment

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Northborough – At the Board of Selectmen’s Jan. 14 meeting, Town Administrator John Coderre reviewed a proposed amendment to legislation on agricultural composting, an issue which been ongoing in the town.

The Mass. Department of Food and Agriculture does not have an agriculture composting program. Large scale commercial composting taking place on agricultural land is automatically exempt from local ordinance, regulations and zoning.

State Senator Harriette Chandler’s office reached out recently to the town to see if Northborough would be interested in pursuing legislation again and that the office would file it on the town’s behalf.

Coderre consulted with town counsel and crafted a new proposed amendment which was given to selectmen at the Jan. 14 meeting.

Selectman Julianne Hirsch recused herself from the discussion because she stated that she is one of the plaintiffs in litigation against the owner of a composing operation in Northborough and believes that it is a general policy issue.

“We had previously worked through Senator Chandler’s office to file what was known as Senate Bill 407 to have impact and effect agricultural zoning issues that the town was dealing with,” explained Coderre.

Specifically, the legislation’s purpose was to remove agricultural composting from oversight of the Department of Agriculture Resources (DAR) and give it to sister agency, the Department of Environment Protection.

Although successful in getting through the legislative process, it was vetoed by Governor Charlie Baker.

“The thrust of the issue for us is that we believe that what we refer to as commercial composting at a very significant level does not belong in a residential neighborhood and it is not compatible. Just because it takes place on a farm, it shouldn’t be exempt from local land use regulations, zoning and Board of Health regulations,” Coderre noted.

The town had been very active with the DAR in providing amendments to their composting regulations but DAR still has not issued a final set of regulations, according to Coderre.

The proposed amendment before selectmen requires that the Department of Food and Agriculture establish an agricultural composting program and includes specific language requiring all composting projects and facilities to comply with local zoning, land use, conservation, health ordinances, bylaws and regulations.

“I am glad that Senator Chandler is still involved with this. I am very pleased to see that we are still going forward in pursuing this,” stated Board Chair Dawn Rand.

The rest of the board approved moving forward with the proposed amendment.