Niagara County legislators took steps Wednesday to protect farms from being overrun by sprawl as they passed a countywide right-to-farm law.
The unanimous vote on the law sponsored by Vice Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, followed a public hearing at which the only two speakers supported the measure.
"I feel farming is losing out to the concrete jungle," said Rosemary Warren of Sanborn.
Bob Hall of Hall Apple Farm in Lockport, a fourth-generation farmer and a director of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, said the law is "pretty good. Some of the stuff is a little vague."
He also took a poke at the Legislature: "It's kind of strange we have to protect our own [farm] jobs. We haven't done a good job protecting any other jobs. People are fleeing like crazy."
The measure doesn't override any of the town right-to-farm laws passed in recent years, but it does declare that no one is allowed to "interfere with, prevent or in any way deter the practice of farming within Niagara County."
Farming practices must be "reasonable and necessary" and "conducted in conformity with generally accepted agricultural practices."
The measure envisions the towns creating dispute resolution boards to referee battles between farmers and nonfarmers, a task the county Farmland Protection Board will handle if the town doesn't create such a panel.
Ross said major help to the farmers can only come from Albany or Washington, but he said it was important to show "how irreplaceable our farming community is."
On other topics, a resolution that would have barred the county clerk from spending any money to process driver's licenses for those without Social Security numbers was sent to committee and probably will be revised.
The measure's sponsor, Legislator Andrea L. McNulty, D-North Tonawanda, said it was written before Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer revised his plan to give licenses to illegal immigrants into a three-tier license system.
"It's not as relevant as it was," said McNulty.
The Legislature also:
* Scheduled a public hearing Nov. 20 on a proposal from Legislator Harry J. Apolito, D-Lockport, to offer property tax exemptions for peacetime veterans who served in the armed forces from 1945 to 1991. Legislators Rebecca E. Cuddahee, D-Niagara Falls, and John Syracuse, R-Newfane, voted no.
* Sent to committee an Apolito resolution to appeal the court ruling that upheld the property tax break granted to AES Corp. by the county Industrial Development Agency.
The Legislature ratified a new contract with Local 182, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents some 350 blue-collar workers. The deal grants retroactive lump-sum raises for 2003, 2004 and 2005 and 2.5 percent raises for 2006, 2007 and 2008.