5/25/2013 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has upheld a lower court decision intended to prevent the identity of farmers from being made public in nutrient management plans.
The May 2 decision is being lauded by farm organizations as a victory for farmers in what many see as an increasingly hostile atmosphere between the farming and environmental communities.
The decision means that the plans remain public documents, which can be viewed by the public, but identifying information that would link the plan to a specific farm or individual is redacted (blacked out).
A case brought by the Waterkeeper Alliance against the Maryland Department of Agriculture alleged that the identifying information was only protected for three years and could be made public after that time period.
“Maryland Farm Bureau is very pleased that the court affirmed what has been our position all along, that nutrient management plans should be considered confidential business documents and identifying information should not be shared with the public,” said Pat Langenfelder, Maryland Farm Bureau president.
The issue has floated through the court system for approximately the last six years. The Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization with chapters in America and Canada devoted to protecting water quality, first brought the suit in order to obtain nutrient management plan information about the Nest Egg Farm in Princess Anne as well as other Chesapeake Bay watershed farms.
Nutrient management plans are considered an important tool to help protect vulnerable waterways from pollution.
“We believe the lower court struck an appropriate balance between providing the public with general information about nutrient management plans and the MDA’s enforcement of those plans while still protecting identifying information about the farmers . . . The Court of Special Appeals correctly affirmed that decision,” said Baltimore area attorney Maggie Witherup, who worked with the Maryland Farm Bureau.
In making the decision, the court said that it felt it was providing an appropriate balance. The decision reads, in part, “accordingly, we agree with the circuit court’s judgment because it strikes a balance between the principled policy of permitting the public to inspect and evaluate public reports pursuant to the Public Information Act, all while continuing to remain sensitive to the applicant’s personal information, specifically his or her identity.”