Right-to-farm Supreme Court arguments heard at Colony High School

Palmer’s Colony High School was the site chosen by the Alaska Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in a case that could test the state’s right-to-farm law. The state’s highest court convened Wednesday at the school as part of an outreach program – Supreme Court LIVE – that helps to teach students about Alaska’s judicial system.

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The appeals case involves a Fairbanks dispute between a housing developer and a septage hauler over the smell generated by the septage, which is stored on a 500 acre farm and used as fertilizer. A 1986 state law, the Right To Farm Act, is designed to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits resulting from encroaching suburban housing developments.

Attorney Susan Orlansky, argued in favor of the developer:

“The Superior court found the right to farm act did not provide immunity from the nuisance suit, primarily because, as a matter of fact, the court found that the septage storage was not an agricultural operation as defined in the statute.”

A lower Fairbanks court had sided with the developer, and the septage hauler appealed that decision to the Alaska Supreme Court. The high court must define what constitutes a commercial agricultural operation before making a decision in the case.

Attorney Bill Satterberg, Jr. argued for the septage hauler:

“The issue of commercial has never been defined by out legislature,” Satterberg said. “The USDA defines commercial as a thousand dollars or more of production in a year. So the USDA threshold is very very low.”

The Justices took the appellant case under advisement.

Chief Justice Craig Stowers said the Palmer site chosen for the arguments was fitting, because growth in the Matanuska-Susitna area has brought subdivisions to farmland, sometimes resulting in conflict.

About 300 Mat-Su Borough high school students pressed into Colony High’s gym to hear the arguments. The case was live – streamed to Mat-Su schools.