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County creates Farmland Preservation Task Force

After months of public comment urging them to do more to save the county’s agriculture heritage, Henderson County commissioners have taken a first step.

The board voted unanimously on Monday to form the Farmland Preservation Task Force and fast-tracked it to form a recommendation.

“I’d like to see you get started ASAP,” Commissioner Bill Lapsley told board Chair Rebecca McCall, who will serve on the task force along with Commissioner David Hill. “I’m always talking about when are we gonna get it done. I’m also thinking about the budget. If we’re going to do something in the coming year’s budget, this group could have an impact on our decision of whether to include funds in the budget.”

Besides the two commissioners, the task force will be made up of representatives from the federal Soil and Water Conservation Service, N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. Farm Bureau and AgHC, plus a couple of “regular people that aren’t associated with those groups and someone from conserving Carolina because they have a lot of knowledge and they deal with this every day,” McCall said.

Commissioners discussed whether to hire a consultant to guide the work, although for now they leaned toward getting started with county voices and input.

“I like the task force better because then we’ve got our local folks that are involved and it seems to get good results, or maybe we could do a bit of a hybrid” that includes a consultant, Hill said.

The board’s action came after a presentation on current programs aimed at preserving farmland, including present-use tax deferments that lower the taxable value of land that is farmed. Another option, land conservation easements, triggered a challenge from Commissioner Michael Edney, who read a list of restrictions imposed on one easement in a 40-page document.

“If you put the land in the conservancy you cannot subdivide it,” said Edney, who is a lawyer. “You can’t grade it, sod farm it or do any kind of earth movement that will deteriorate the soil. You can’t drive motor vehicles on it except for farm vehicles on farm roads. … I’m for farmland preservation, but I’m not 100 percent sure this is the proper way to get there.”

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta agreed that the restrictions sounded severe.

“You hit the nail on the head,” he said. “This is an important goal. The how and the why matter in everything.”

Kieran Roe, the executive director of Conserving Carolina, rose to defend the conservation easements as landowner driven.

“When we talk about farmland preservation, we’re talking about conservation easements — legal agreements between the landowner and the agency that holds the easement and they’re voluntary,” he said. “So every one that we do is with the voluntary cooperation of the landowners that want to do this and this idea that someone like the government is telling you what you can do is just wrong. These easements create the conditions of how it can remain a farm but nobody’s micromanaging anything about the operation of the farm.”

Asked whether the language in the agreements was “boilerplate,” Roe said it was not.

“Every easement is tailored to the property, to the desires of the landowners, what they want to see,” he said. “Nothing can happen without the cooperation of the landowner.”

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McCall invited anyone interested in serving on the Farmland Preservation Task Force to contact Board of Commissioners Clerk Denisa Lauffer at 828-697-4808 or