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Counties want own farmland boards

April 07, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Two Eastern Panhandle county commissioners say they want to set up their own boards in their counties to run the state's new Farmland Protection Program signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Cecil Underwood.

By doing so, they would be able to apply for the same federal funds as the state and not have to rely on West Virginia to distribute the money among its counties, Berkeley County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham said.

Under the plan, which was proposed in the recent session of the Legislature by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, "protective easements" would be set up on local farms to protect them from development.

Any farmer who participates in the voluntary Farmland Protection Program would be paid not to sell his land to a developer.

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Now that the bill has been signed into law, county commissioners in Jefferson County and Berkeley County are determining how they want to implement it.

It makes sense for Berkeley County to have its own funding instead of competing with 54 other West Virginia counties for money the state would distribute, Dunham said.

Jefferson County Commissioner James K. Ruland said he also favors Jefferson County setting up its own farmland protection board.

"We spend a lot of time bellyaching over local control, and this is an instance where we can have some," Ruland said.

Unger said up to $35 million is available from Congress for farmland protection programs.

Before counties and the state begin applying for money, they have to concentrate on how to set up boards, Ruland said.

Unger said the state is developing a model ordinance that counties can follow to organize their own boards.

Supporters of the Farmland Protection Program say the effort is vital to keep large amounts of farmland in the rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle from being developed.

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