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Friday, January 20th, 2012

Zuma-area residents seek farmland preservation

Designation would be first of its kind in Mercer County

By Shelley Grieshop
MONTEZUMA - Two Franklin Township residents may be the first in Mercer County to enroll in a 10-year program that protects their farmland from non-agricultural development.
The unidentified property owners recently applied for the Agricultural Security Areas program established in 2005 by the Department of Agriculture. They jointly seek to preserve 517 acres between Clover Four and Guadalupe roads.
Individuals or multiple property owners seeking enrollment in the ASA must own at least 500 acres of contiguous farmland and obtain approval from county commissioners and township trustees. The program prevents local officials from constructing new roads and sewer lines on the preserved land during the 10-year period.
Mercer County Commissioners on Thursday vowed their support for the application and agreed to facilitate the required two public hearings on the issue. No dates have been set.
Amanda Wischmeyer and Jim Spurgat of the nonprofit organization West Central Ohio Land Conservancy on Thursday spoke to county commissioners on behalf of the landowners. Spurgat, secretary of the WCOLC, explained that ASA-approved landowners receive no compensation but often use "points" gained from membership to get accepted in another state program that does.
"It may seem strange to go through this to get two points on an application, but the AEPP (Agricultural Easement Purchase Program) is very competitive," Spurgat said.
Dave and Lois Schwieterman, also of Franklin Township, last year became the first property owners in the county to net approval in the AEPP. In exchange for a sum of $122,641, the couple agreed to forever protect their 76-acre farm as state-preserved agricultural land.
Commissioners questioned Wischmeyer and Spurgat on details of the ASA program.
"So if a sewer really needs to go through in those areas, can it happen?" commissioner Bob Nuding asked.
"No," said Wischmeyer, WCOLC president. "That's why you want these (ASA land) in secured areas."
She told commissioners the land most often accepted into the program is located a few miles from commercial or heavy residential development, as well as several miles from bodies of water such as Grand Lake.
Wischmeyer said the local ASA application is the first in the county and in WCOLC's region, which includes Auglaize, Van Wert, Putnam, Allen, Hancock and Hardin counties. More than 30,000 acres in Ohio have been approved for the ASA program.
Landowners who qualify for the ASA designation may also be eligible for a tax abatement on farm-related structures or fixtures. Approval is given at the discretion of county commissioners and township trustees.
To be eligible for the ASA program, landowners also must be enrolled in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) tax program and the Agricultural District Program and be using best management practices. More information can be found at www.agri.ohio.gov/farmland.
WCOLC is a Lima-based grassroots agency that works with private landowners to conserve land and protect open space by assisting in conservation easement acquisitions and other measures. The main purpose of the organization is to protect land that has natural, recreational, scenic, historic or productive value such as farmland, forests, historic sites, etc.
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