Delaware County commissioners, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District are looking for ways to preserve the county’s farmland and still meet the needs of future growth.
Commissioners have agreed to be local sponsors of ODA’s farmland preservation program, the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program, that preserves farmland for future agricultural use and prohibits any industrial or housing developments on designated farmland.
The role of the county commission is to act as “eyes and ears” for the ODA, according to Amanda Bennett, ODA program manager of farmland programs. Commissioners will submit reports every two years, stating that designated land is still being used as active farms, according to ODA officials.
A concern of commissioners is that the program blocks the possibility of future county easements to build roads and utilities on preserved land.
During a discussion at the March 24 commission meeting, John Miller of the Soil and Water Conservation District’s board spoke about the potential of farmland preservation. “What these easements were set up to do was to help this family preserve a history of their farm,” he said. “I think these easements could potentially become focal points for agriculture in the community.”
Commissioner Gary Merrell said he has concerns about how the question affects people on both sides of issue. “The main issue I have is to be comfortable with protecting all the property rights of everybody involved,” he said. “I take it very seriously that we have a need to protect the rights of everyone in this county on both sides of this issue.”
The issue is complex and affects the future of the county — 50 to 100 years down the road — and its residents, he said. “It’s a quandary, (and) that’s why I think we need a little time to hash this out,” Merrell said.
Merrell discussed creating “blanket easements” that reserve the right to run utilities and to widen roads on preserved land.
Eric Hostetler, an assistant county prosecutor, explained the problem with blanket easements. “Blanket easements would nullify the purpose of preservation,” he said.
Looking for a better way to serve both sides, Hostetler suggested commissioners identify corridors of property that could be reserved for easements and future development. “This way the board could be very specific as to where they wanted road rights of way and utility easements for future use,” Hostetler said.
“There’s got to be a way to figure out the right easements for roads and utilities that don’t impact 98 percent of the farms,” Commissioner Jeff Benton said.
D. Anthony Botkin can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.