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Washington County moves closer to farm preservation ranking system

July 09, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners came closer to reaching an agreement on a system to rank farms for preservation funds but stopped short of approving a new ranking system Tuesday.

The commissioners suggested changes to the ranking system that will be taken to the Washington County Agricultural Board for approval.

A final checklist used to rank farms will be presented again to the commissioners in a couple of weeks, said Eric Seifarth, the county's rural preservation administrator.

The checklist uses a point system to determine the order of easement payments through the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program (MALPP), a state program that pays farmers who agree to continue farming their land.

Because there are always more applicants than money available, the ranking system decides who gets paid first, Seifarth said.

During an April discussion, some commissioners suggested changes to the system.

Aleshire said properties that are contiguous to other preserved farms get too much weight under the ranking system, which he said leaves many farmers without the possibility of receiving MALPP funds.

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On Tuesday, Seifarth presented several revisions to the checklist that would reduce the penalty for properties that have been excluded from preservation or developed and would give points to large farms regardless of whether they are contiguous.

He said the latter change would move some large, noncontiguous farms up the ranking list while maintaining the importance of creating blocks of preserved farmland.

Aleshire said it did not go far enough and suggested that properties adjacent to federally preserved lands such as Antietam National Battlefield and the C&O Canal should be considered contiguous. He also said a 300-acre limit for properties to receive the extra points should be lowered.

David Herbst, chairman of the Washington County Agricultural Advisory Board, said he did not think including federal lands would be a problem.

"Our biggest concern is having an island with ag land around houses," Herbst said.

Seifarth said he will discuss the commissioners' suggestions with Agricultural Board members and bring the checklist back to the commissioners for approval in a couple of weeks.

He said the properties have to be ranked by early fall to be considered for state funds.

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