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Franklin County considers measures to preserve land

August 11, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Preserving prime agricultural land from development and updating the county's aging emergency communications system are being considered by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners for inclusion in a $39 million bond issue.

Since 1990, the county has purchased the development easements on more than 7,000 acres of farmland, but the cost has almost doubled over the years to an average of $1,900 an acre, said Phil Tarquino, the county's planning director.

He said it will cost about $2.5 million to buy the development rights on an additional 1,200 acres of land ready to enter the county's farmland land preservation program.

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Another 94 farms comprising 12,700 acres also have applied for the program, he said. For every $1 the county spends on agricultural preservation, Tarquino said, $2 in state and federal matching funds usually is available.

G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the board of commissioners, said the goal of the county is to preserve 10,000 acres of farmland by 2007, but that would not be enough to create a "sustainable mass" to preserve farming as the county's top industry. Without preserving more land, he said, associated farm supply and equipment businesses will not survive.

The amount preserved so far is a small fraction of the agricultural land in the county, according to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Statistics Service. In 2001, 255,500 of the county's 494,000 acres were farmland, according to a 2002 report.

Franklin County Director of Emergency Services Jerry Flasher said replacing the county's radio system will cost about $4 million. The current system, using a combination of low-band, VHF and UHF frequencies, would be replaced by a UHF system.

"There's no one set standard in Franklin County," Flasher said. Some of the equipment is based on 1960s technology, is up to 30 years old and is no longer made or serviced, he said.

All four options on a new system would require more tower sites, new base station radios, transmitters and receivers, Flasher said. The county could partner with cell phone tower owners to improve reception and transmission in parts of the county that now have spotty emergency radio coverage, he said.

"There is a tremendous amount of UHF equipment already in the county," Flasher said. All emergency medical services and some police departments use UHF systems, but fire services use low-band radios, he said.

Volunteer fire companies, municipalities and other departments that do not have UHF equipment would have to convert, Flasher said. He said there are grant programs that could assist those entities in purchasing new communications equipment, he said.

Flasher said many counties in the region, including Maryland and West Virginia, face similar communications problems.

"We're all in the same boat," he said.

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