In Fluvanna, it’s not enough to pay for a cow if you’re responsible for its death. You have to clean it up, too, under a recent amendment to the county code “pertaining to the disposition of certain animal carcasses.”
When a CSX train killed a cow belonging to John Easter’s neighbor on December 16, the company reimbursed the neighbor for the cow, but wouldn’t remove the carcass that lay about 35 feet from Easter’s property and near a stream that flows into the James River.
“It was pretty gross,” says Easter. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a 1,200-pound animal decompose.”
While livestock owners are supposed to keep their cows contained, Virginia law makes railroads responsible for maintaining fencing along their tracks, according to CSX spokesman David Hall.
Finding no recourse from the sheriff or the commonwealth’s attorney because of corporate loopholes, Easter went to the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors, which voted unanimously to amend the code.
In the past, CSX has been known to bury cows— without notifying the owner, claims Easter.
“They hit five of mine in the mid to late ‘80s,”he recalls. He’d noticed some of his cows missing, but it wasn’t until a neighbor allegedly saw CSX contractors burying his cows that he knew what had happened. Easter says it took five years to get reimbursed $1,000 each for his registered Herefords. CSX spokesman Hall was unable to find information regarding that case.
The new law doesn’t cover only cases related to CSX, says Cecil Cobb, chairman of the Fluvanna Supervisors. Sometimes owners must pay. “A sick cow could wander over to your yard and die,” he cites as a case where the owner would be responsible for disposal.
And was there any opposition to the dead cow law? Cobb says no. “It wasn’t one of our hot topics that day.”
It takes a backhoe to bury a cow carcass, and under the new law, the county will remove it and then bill the offender, explains Easter.
As for the unfortunate bovine that set this legislation in process? “It’s still there,” says Easter. “There’s not much left of it.”