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Arguments for preservation

August 12, 2004

The Board of Commissioners of Franklin County, Pa., this week considered a $39 million bond issue, in part to purchase the development rights on another 2,000 acres of farmland.

The county hopes to have 10,000 acres in the program by 2007, but Warren G. Elliott, the commissioners' chairman, says even that won't create a "sustainable mass" to keep farming the county's top industry.

Without even more easement purchases, the businesses that now serve agriculture won't be able to continue, he said.

The only way farmland will be preserved is if county residents are convinced that it benefits them to do so. They have to be sold on the idea that not doing it will be more costly than purchasing those easements.

Fortunately, the arguments in favor of the idea are simple. If farms are sold, it's usually for residential development, which seldom pays the full costs for the services it requires, such as schools and roads.

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Upgrading both is expensive, and even when the bills are paid, the additional traffic impacts both air quality and the quality of life.

Whether farmland is preserved or developed, there are costs. The difference is that the preservation approach allows citizens to determine the county's future. Not acting means ceding those decisions to the developers, who can't be voted out of office if citizens don't like the way they do their jobs.

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