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County OKs airport land purchase

July 14, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Kenneth Eby said the land Washington County agreed to buy from him on Tuesday had been in his family close to 200 years.

But Eby said he was pleased because an agreement in the sale lets his family continue farming there.

"What we appreciate is they gave us fair compensation," Eby said afterward.

The Washington County Commissioners voted to buy from Eby a little more than 18 acres on the north side of Reiff Church Road, near Hagerstown Regional Airport.

The total price was $506,738, of which the county will pay 2.5 percent, or $12,668, from its general fund.

The Federal Aviation Administration will pay 95 percent and the state of Maryland will cover the remaining 2.5 percent.

The land will be part of an FAA-mandated runway protection zone, a safety buffer area.

Carolyn Motz, the manager of Hagerstown Regional Airport, said Tuesday's purchase was connected to a runway extension completed in 2007. The protection zone moved as the runway was changed.

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The FAA has allowed easements in the past, but now wants buffer land to be purchased, she said.

The county will lease the land back to the Ebys for 10 years, but is covering the Ebys' lease cost.

Kenneth Eby attended Tuesday's Washington County Commissioners meeting with his son Leon Eby and grandson Devlynn Eby.

Leon Eby is the third straight generation to farm the land. He said he grows corn, alfalfa and barley used for a dairy operation.

Under the lease arrangement, the Ebys will keep farming there. They'll be required to keep crops low, so corn, which has high stalks, will be limited, Kenneth Eby said.

The county purchased two parcels from Eby.

During a phone interview afterward, Motz said a 17.74-acre parcel zoned for agriculture was appraised at $452,000.

An adjacent 0.39-acre parcel in the county's Urban Growth Area was appraised at $44,000.

Bowers Appraisal of Hagerstown did the appraisals. A second set of appraisals, or review appraisals, by J.R. Bradford matched the original appraisals, Motz said.

As part of the negotiations for the land, the county agreed to pay $10,738 to the Ebys -- beyond the appraised land value -- so they can farm the land, Motz said.

In turn, the Ebys will pay the $10,738 back to the county over the life of the lease.

Motz described it as a "pass-through" payment that will come right back to the county.

During a hearing on Tuesday, Clear Spring farmer Gerald Ditto was the only person from the public to speak.

He said he's glad a farmer is getting compensated for giving up his land for public use, which hasn't happened other times.

Ditto said he doesn't oppose the transaction, but wants to know more about the conditions the FAA has attached to its 95 percent share of the purchase cost. He said he has asked for documentation explaining the FAA's funding for airport-related work, but hasn't gotten it.

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