County accepts two preservation grants

January 31, 2010
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Kent County commissioners advanced the county’s farmland preservation program last week by accepting two grants that will go toward buying development rights and by setting the criteria to choose qualified applicants for this year’s program.

And commissioners could advance it even further next week if they purchase the options for 631.5 acres on six properties for $1.13 million, with $519,000 of that total coming from a federal preservation grant. The remainder would come from local sources, quite possibly the $275,000 the board allocated to the Purchase of Development Rights program in December.

The grants commissioners accepted totaled $17,500, with $10,000 coming from the Kent County Farm Bureau and $7,500 from the Frey Foundation. Both have supported the program with grants in the past. In fact, the Frey Foundation has been one of the effort’s strongest supporters, having given over $200,000 to the PDR program since its inception in late 2002.

Many of the selection criteria remain the same, as the program will continue to focus on preserving farms and orchards in areas with large blocks of agricultural land. Prime and unique soils also continue to be deciding factors.

But a few changes have been made to the criteria. A property now has to be located within a township’s preservation area. If it isn’t, the land doesn’t qualify for a state preservation grant. At least 25 percent of a property has to be irrigated or tiled to gain points in the selection process; the standard practice of liming an entire farm nets an applicant zero points.

Properties that are the closest to sewer and water service will receive more points this year. Previously, land located from 1.5 to 3 miles from those services scored the highest in this category. Now land less than a half mile from water and sewer service will get the top score, while properties from a half mile to 1.5 miles will receive the next highest score.

Kendra Wills, of the Kent/MSU Extension Service and a preservation consultant to the county, said the mileage change was made to preserve the properties that are the closest to developments.

A new criterion offers more points to an applicant who applies in tandem with another property owner. These applications must consist of contiguous properties or farms located across from one another. An application with multiple properties, though, will not be scored as one. “They’re scored separately, but each will get the five additional points,” said Wills.

Wills said another new wrinkle this year is the Grand Valley Regional Biosolid Authority PDR Pilot Program. The authority is offering an option agreement, but only for farms already in the program.

Applications to the PDR program can be made beginning March 1 and will be accepted by the Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board until April 30.

The board received 34 applications containing over 3,900 acres from 13 townships in the previous application cycle and all met federal preservation guidelines.

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