Blair to save farmland

County commits funds for farm preservation

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners agreed Tuesday to commit $20,000 in general fund revenue and $60,000 in Marcellus Shale revenue for farmland preservation.

That decision means the county can purchase development rights for one or two farms and possibly a third, depending on state funding.

“I’m very pleased with the decision,” said Richard Heuther, agricultural conservation specialist for the Blair County Conservation District, which manages the county’s farmland preservation program. “In this area, we’re the county with the most acres in farmland preservation.”

Blair County commissioners have traditionally supported the farmland preservation program with general fund allocations and more recently, with Marcellus Shale revenue that the county can use for that purpose.

Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb initially suggested devoting $40,000 instead of $60,000 of Marcellus Shale revenue, in light of a potential drop in Marcellus Shale revenue due to industry changes.

But after fellow commissioners Terry Tomassetti and Ted Beam Jr. voted in favor of the $60,000 allocation from Marcellus Shale money, Erb said he would vote in favor, too.

While the state’s allocation for farmland preservation is not yet available, prior funding indicates that the county’s $80,000 allocation could bring in about $280,000 from the state. If the county has allocated $60,000, then the state’s allocation would drop to $210,000 based on prior funding levels.

The state, according to Heuther, has been allocating $3.50 for every dollar Blair County puts in.

And if it comes through with that type of allocation in 2017, then the county to buy the easement rights for two farms, one in Sinking Valley and one in Catharine Township and to consider a third in Taylor Township.

Pennsylvania established a farmland preservation program in 1988 to curb the conversion of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses and the resulting loss of high-quality soils best suited for farming. To date, 45 percent of the program’s funding on the state level has come from cigarette tax revenue, according to the Pennsylvania Growing Greener Coalition.

That steady source of revenue, according to the coalition, is a key reason why the state’s farmland preservation program has been successful.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.