ATLANTA – A state Senate committee voted Monday to double the length of time Georgia property owners would have to file nuisance lawsuits against neighboring farms.

Under the Right to Farm Act the Georgia House of Representatives passed early this month, property owners bothered by dust, noise or offensive odors emanating from a nearby farm would have one year to file a nuisance suit. A substitute bill the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee approved Monday would double that statute of limitations to two years.

“Two years is a fair balance to protect the private property rights of both existing landowners and a new [farm] coming in,” committee Chairman Larry Walker III, R-Perry, said before the vote.

Walker’s counterpart, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Robert Dickey, the bill’s chief sponsor, supported the change.

“I think [two years] is the right number,” said Dickey, R-Musella. “Any kind of work on a farm that could possibly be considered a nuisance, by two years, that work would be apparent.”

The bill’s supporters have been pushing off and on for several years for legislation making it harder for neighbors to file nuisance lawsuits against neighboring farms. They argued the bill is needed because of increasing encroachment by residential subdivisions on agricultural areas around the state.

“We’ve lost a lot of agricultural land in the last 20 years to development,” said Rep. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla. “That’s why it’s important that we continue to protect our state’s No.-1 industry.”

The bill’s opponents, including environmental advocates and legislative Democrats, have argued a one-year statute of limitations for nuisance suits is inadequate. Even with the two-year leeway for suits, they continue to maintain property owners already are well protected by the 1989 law the new bill would replace.

Harper, who is running for state commissioner of agriculture, said Monday he would prefer keeping the statute of limitations at one year.

“In all the states where this [law] was found constitutional, there was a one-year clock,” he said.

The bill likely will reach the full Senate for a vote later this week.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.