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Head of Land Trust discusses farmland protection

February 05, 2001

Head of Land Trust discusses farmland protection



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When the process of protecting sections of farmland in the Eastern Panhandle begins, both private and government agencies should be involved in the effort, an official said Monday.

Farmland can be protected from development through the establishment of easements that legally restrict land use.

Farmland Protection Boards have been set up in all three Eastern Panhandle counties to set up the easements.

Both government and private agencies should be involved in setting up the easements to ensure they remain in place, said Jim Keel, president of the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, a private organization that holds three easements.

If one of the agencies involved in setting up the easement fails to exist, for example, there will be a successor organization to keep the easement intact, Keel said.

Rapidly spreading development in the Eastern Panhandle is driving up property prices so high that farmland that sold for about $750 an acre less than 30 years ago can now bring more than $6,000 an acre.

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But rather than let farmland disappear to development, there is an effort through the Farmland Protection Boards to keep some of the land open.

Not only could it keep the farm industry from disappearing, but the land could be used for other purposes such as parks or schools, said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, one of the people who has been leading the effort.

Under the effort, farmers can donate land for protective easements or be paid money in return for an easement.

Officials have said there is up to $35 million available through the federal government for the easements.

Before any of the farmland protection boards can obtain federal funding, they must establish rules for how their programs will work, the criteria they will use for determining what kind of land will be preserved and make other preparations, Keel said.

Keel said the three boards are still working on those efforts, and no federal funding has been secured.

"A lot of this stuff is under development. It's a work in progress, the whole thing," Keel said.

Unger said he plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., Thursday to inquire about funding for the boards.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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