ALBANY — In one of those rare instances where people across the political spectrum banded together, a group of southwest Georgians honored Thursday by the Flint Riverkeeper were in agreement that legislation dubbed “Right to Farm” was wrong for farmers and the environment.

The organization presented Clean 13 awards during an afternoon ceremony to Rhonda Gordon, executive director of the Golden Triangle Resource and Development Council, and farmers Jenny Crisp, Mark Israel and Margie McRee. State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, was unable to attend.

The six were among the individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations included in the Georgia Water Coalition’s Clean 13 report released in October.

Powell rallied the 21 Democratic senators and also managed to convince enough Republicans to oppose HB 445 over the two sessions the legislation was under consideration, said Gordon Rogers, executive director of the Flint Riverkeeper.

The legislation would have decreased the timeframe residents of nuisance farming operations had to file lawsuits from five years to two years. Some saw it as a backdoor attempt to allow large-scale farming operations such as massive hog farms to relocate to the state.

It didn’t take much investigation to realize the legislation was disguised as protection for farmers but was actually a gift to big business, McRee said.

“We feel this was not fair to the rural landowners and had no recourse against it,” she said. “It also (eliminated) due process. I’m not an environmentalist, I’m a farmer.”

Israel, a Republican, said he actually spoke with Democratic senators on one of his trips to the state Capitol to voice his opposition.

“It literally gave them immunity,” he said of nuisance operations. “I was goaded out of my hiding place. If it hadn’t been for Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, it would have been nothing (to pass the bill). She was instrumental in that being defeated.”

Sims rallied the bipartisan group and kept enough Republicans on board to ultimately deny passage, Rogers said.

Due to COVID-19 the annual state awards ceremony was held via video conference, so the Thursday ceremony included handing out the actual award plaques to the local recipients.

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