Delaware County officials on Thursday expressed some hesitation about becoming a sponsor of a agricultural easement purchase program.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation program allows land owners to apply to sell an agricultural easement on their land to the department to ensure the property will be used for agricultural purposes well into the future.
But county officials fear the program could stymie development in the future.
“What if 10 to 15 years from now we need to take sewer across one of these areas that had been under preservation,” said Commissioner Gary Merrell. “If we can’t go across that property, at a minimum it would add expense.”
Five Delaware County farms have been protected, although all of the land was donated, and not sponsored for the program by the county.
The program is designed to preserve land for agricultural use. From 1950 to 2000 – the year in which the program was established – Ohio lost 6.9 million acres of farmland.
Since its inception, the state has spent about $36 million, with another $38 million coming from the federal government, to purchase agricultural easements. Landowners have also donated about $88 million in easement value.
The state has made $7 million available for the program in 2016.
Since the program began, the state has purchased 320 easements, protecting about 55,000 of the 164,814 acres of land currently used for agricultural purposes.
“There’s some pitfalls with the program,” said Tim Hansley, the county’s administrator.
He said he plans to continue to look into the program and is likely to issue a recommendation to commissioners in the coming week on whether to become a sponsor.
“There’s a lot of issues with that program that we are still studying,” he said.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.