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Wayne leading PDR initiative

Staff Writer


State agriculture officials are expecting 200 or more applications for a new purchase of development rights program, and Wayne County still appears to have more than any other county in the state.

The deadline for submitting applications for the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program was Tuesday. Howard Wise, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Office of Farmland Preservation, said more than 150 applications were submitted prior to the end of that day, and a final count would not be made until mailed-applications were received in coming days.

Wise said Wayne County still is outpacing other counties in number of applications. A couple of other counties may have as many 30, but none are expected to submit more than the 62 sent in by area landowners. Holmes County officials forwarded nine applications to Columbus last week.

"My guess is (Wayne County ) will have the most applications," Wise said.

Through PDR, landowners voluntarily place a conservation easement on their property to protect farmland and natural areas from development. Farmers selling development rights retain ownership of the land. However, they and future generations of owners give up the right to develop anything on the land other than agricultural uses, except by judicial order.

In November 2000, voters statewide OK'd a constitutional amendment enabling Ohio to sell $400 million in bonds to fund land-use programs. About $25 million of the total is to be used to purchase agricultural easements.

State officials finalized the rules for the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program late last year, and there will be about $6.25 million available each year for the next four years. Farmers selected for the program will receive a maximum of $4,000 per acre, up to $1 million per farm.

Wayne County landowners will seek to sell easements on about 8,000 acres. The largest single application was for a nearly 400-acre farm, and the smallest was for an 11.59-acre parcel. Several landowners submitted multiple applications for parcels that are not contiguous. The largest concentration of applicants came from landowners in Canaan, Plain, Franklin and Milton townships.

Amy Miller, who is a conservation planner/education specialist in the Wayne County Department of Planning, Commissioner Fred Cannon and Maryanna Biggio, who has served on the county farmland preservation advisory committee, hand-delivered Wayne County's applications to the Office of Farmland Preservation on Monday.

Miller thanked the area landowners who applied for the program. Each had to gather numerous supporting documents and complete the 12-page application.

"Each family was fantastic in their ability to obtain the information, the commitment to fill out the application and their enthusiasm," she said, adding later, "I got to meet a lot of great people and help them."

Miller also thanked the volunteers who helped her review the applications and verify information. Miller spent April focusing most of her attention on the process.

And Miller said she's already been contacted by 10 landowners planning to apply for the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program next year.

It likely will take months for easement sales to close. Wise said during the next couple of weeks, the state will review the first part of the applications, which included a series of objective questions.

The applications will be ranked, and those scoring the most points will be forwarded to the state's farmland preservation advisory board. Members will review the second part of the applications, which included more subjective questions.

A list of the highest-scoring applicants will be reviewed by Fred Dailey, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Subsequently, title searches and appraisals will have to be conducted on the winners' properties, Wise said.

The state then will negotiate with landowners to determine final easement purchase prices. Selected landowners are not obligated to accept the easement agreements. Wise said if landowners decide not to proceed, other high-scoring applicants will be contacted.

"We're going to have a backup list," he said.

The state controlling board must sign off on the matter before any funds are distributed.

The process probably will not be completed until late summer or fall, at the earliest, Wise said.

Wise also reiterated there also is a chance federal funds could be doled out for states' agricultural easement programs. The farm bill, which is being finalized by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, includes some provisions for PDR-related programming.

Business/Farm Editor Marc Kovac can be reached at (330) 287-1645, or e-mail at mkovac@the-daily-record.com