Testing lab puts land into preservation

The Baltimore Sun

A ballistics testing facility in northern Harford County has placed nearly half of its property in a land preservation program.

The H. P. White Laboratory owns nearly 300 acres surrounding its facility, which sits across Scarboro Road from the county landfill in Street. The company will receive $1.9 million from the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation to restrict development on 136 acres along Boyd Road. Much of the land is leased to farmers.

"We want to preserve the farmland that is around us," said Eric Dunn, vice president of the laboratory. "All this land is being farmed now."

Harford County, which has set a goal of 55,000 acres preserved by 2012, spent more than $20 million on land preservation this year, bringing to about 43,000 the number of acres in permanent protection programs

"Over the years, the White company has bought a lot of land as a buffer," said William D. Amoss, manager of the county agricultural preservation program. "They don't need to expand, and this easement really helps us. It helps farmers, too, especially those who lease this land."

The lab, founded in 1953, employs 40 people. It tests armor and ammunition with its most famous project being the test on the rifle involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It has also tested presidential limos, building components used in U.S. embassies and the balls used in Maryland lotteries.

The Harford property was among the nearly 3,100 acres of farmland in 13 counties that will enter the program at a cost of $21.7 million this year, state officials said. Farmland protected in perpetuity by the program, which dates to 1977, has reached nearly 270,000 acres.

State programs help bolster local preservation efforts and often pay participants slightly more than the counties. Criteria such as size, soil quality and proximity to other preserved land play a role in the state's decision.

"Any time that we can get an individual into a state program with state money that is even better for us," Amoss said.

Harford faces increasing pressure for development because of the expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground, officials said. The post is expected to grow by about 10,000 jobs in the next three years as part of the nationwide military base realignment.

That growth will create development pressure, particularly in north Harford. The county wants a continuous block of preserved land along Deer Creek, a drinking water source less than a mile south of the lab, officials said.

At least 20 farms remain on a waiting list for preservation programs and Amoss' office has received more than 10 additional applications for the next round.

The county has nearly exhausted the funding reserves available to safeguard farms from development and is looking at alternatives. Much of the funding is generated by real estate transfer taxes, but the downturn in the housing market is leading to projections of far less revenue next year, officials said.

That slow market has renewed interest in preservation. But, with about $2 million for preservation in the 2009 budget, the county might be limited in the easements it can purchase. Still, officials have promised to continue efforts.

"We have a wonderful program that is helping us keep land from development," Amoss said.


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