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County seeks rural legacy funding

February 06, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Washington County is seeking $1.6 million from the Maryland's Rural Legacy Program to continue land preservation efforts near Antietam National Battlefield.

Twenty counties have filed requests with the Rural Legacy Program for more than $94 million. Gov. Parris Glendening has said the program will distribute $24.6 million later this year.

The Rural Legacy Program distributed $10.8 million in 1997, its first year of operation. In 1998, that rose to $18.2 million.

The county last year received a $1.8 million grant for use in purchasing development rights from property owners in a 14,000-acre section near the Civil War battlefield.

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In exchange for agreeing to protect their land from development, along with other restrictions, property owners will receive an average of $1,800 to $2,000 per acre, said Eric Seifarth, the county's farmland preservation administrator.

The county expects to negotiate with 25 property owners, but written agreements have not been signed, he said.

About 5,000 of the 14,000 acres already are protected by other preservation programs, Seifarth said.

If the county's latest grant request is successful, the plan is to use the money to preserve an additional 813 acres near the battlefield.

Some of the land is farther from the battlefield site than the area included in last year's grant request, reducing the odds of getting grant money, he said.

"We are not as optimistic as the first time around," Seifarth said.

The program, like the Smart Growth initiative, is geared toward preserving land that is historically important, environmentally sensitive and prime agricultural land, he said.

The county's Rural Legacy zone is centered around the battlefield and extends to Red Hill Road south of Keedysville.

About 300 acres of the new request are east of Red Hill Road. Most of the remaining acreage is on Reno Monument Road.

In its initial grant request, Washington County had hoped to designate a 37,000-acre area that would have extended to the Washington County border.

But Seifarth said state officials moved the boundary to Red Hill Road because the county's zoning was not restrictive enough and not enough land was protected by other preservation programs in the eastern portion.

Rural Legacy is one of several state programs designed to protect farmland by offering farmers a variety of incentives to prevent development.

Unlike other preservation efforts, Rural Legacy takes into account environmental and historical considerations. Applicants will be accepted for inclusion in the program based on a complex formula that awards points for various criteria.

For instance, a working farm gets more points than open land, Seifarth said.

Property owners also have the option of agreeing to other restrictions. They may, for example, create stream buffers, or take action to protect endangered species. The more restrictions they agree to, the more money they are eligible to receive.

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