EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 3, 2013

Haverhill pigs lose court battle

City evicted swine in 2011 after complaints

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The swine at the center of a year-long feud between farmers, residents and the city over piggery rules have lost a legal battle in their owner’s fight to return the animals to Haverhill.

A Superior Court judge has affirmed a fall 2011 decision by the city’s Board of Health to deny Chris and Marlene Stasinos a license to raise the animals at an existing piggery on Boxford Road and a proposed one at Silsby Farm on Salem Street. A few months after the decision, the city evicted the pigs from the Boxford Road property.

The local health board denied the Stasinos piggeries because they would “create noisome and injurious odors and be injurious to the estates of other property owners and would otherwise constitute a nuisance or threat to public health,” according to the board’s decision.

Francis DiLuna, the Stasinos’ lawyer, said neither he nor his clients wanted to comment on the new court decision.

In denying the Silsby Farm piggery, where the Stasinos’ said the Boxford Road pigs would be spending winter, the health board said it would be too close to single-family homes on Valleyview Farm Road and have a “severe adverse impact” on a 27-home development being built nearby called Hale’s Landing.

The controversy began sometime in May 2011 when the Stasinos’ began raising pigs without a license on nine acres of agricultural land near the Boxford line, sparking complaints from neighbors about odors and concerns from city officials about potential environmental impacts. Neighbors said the couple moved the animals onto the property under the cover of darkness.

On two occasions, city inspectors went to the farm, counting 25 pigs on one visit and 20 on the other. But in his appeal to the courts and later to state regulators, Chris Stasinos said he planned to keep only seven sows and one boar at the two farms at separate times — Boxford Road from April to November and Silsby Farm in winter.

In its denial decision, the health board said Chris Stasinos and his lawyer DiLuna refused to say how many pigs the farmer intended to raise on the Boxford Road land. The health board’s ruling said the land had a capacity of between 104 and 156 animals. At a City Hall hearing early in the dispute — packed with dozens of neighbors opposed to the pig farm and farmers there to support the Stasinos — DiLuna said information about how many pigs his client intended to raise was a proprietary secret.

Chris Stasinos appealed the board’s denial to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which ruled in favor of the city. That denial spawned the lawsuit.

In his ruling, Judge Thomas Murtagh said there were no errors of law in the case and that the Board of Health’s decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious — the standard for overturning a local decision.

The judge emphasized Stasinos’ refusal to tell the city how many pigs he intended to keep on the Boxford Road.

“Without having the number of pigs destined to occupy the site, the burden on the land cannot be ascertained,” the ruling said. “The quantity of manure cannot be determined and the adequacy of any plan to deal with the waste and runoff cannot be fully evaluated. This would be reason alone to deny the license for Boxford Road.”

The judge said it’s “elementary” that the board can and should deny the licenses at locations for which site assignments have been denied “because piggeries emanate odors and are considered nuisances.”

“Evidence concerning the risks to water supplies, the lack of erosion controls and the damage from runoff, negate any claim that the board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious,” the judge wrote.

Lastly, the ruling said Stasinos’ argument is without merit because he never submitted mitigation plans for his piggeries.

“While Stasinos might argue about what might be a proper plan and specifications if he had submitted plans and specifications, he has not much to complain about where he has submitted nothing which could be considered a real plan or specifications.”

As for the Stasinos’ pigs, the cause is not yet lost. They still have one last chance to win their return to Haverhill.

A second Stasinos lawsuit is pending in Lawrence Superior Court and could be headed for a jury trial. This lawsuit seeks to force the Board of Health to assign the farmer’s property with a special pig farm designation.

City Solicitor William Cox said a court hearing on that complaint is scheduled Feb. 28. Cox said he expects a similar result as the latest ruling.

“They are so similar that I can’t see how we could win one and not the other,” Cox said of the lawsuits.