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County land preservation program could add 3,000 acres

Carroll County could add more than 3,000 acres to its agricultural preservation program over the next month, adding to Carroll's position as the county with the most acres preserved through agricultural conservation easements in the state.

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners unanimously approved the first seven conservation easements Thursday, adding 676 acres to the county's preservation program.

A total of 25 easement applications totaling more than 3,000 acres are expected to come before the board over the next month, according to Ralph Robertson, the county's agricultural land preservation program manager.

"This program is extremely important, not just for the legacy of Carroll County, but for the future of Carroll County," Commissioners President Doug Howard said.

Commissioners Richard Rothschild and Robin Frazier were absent from the meeting.

Carroll County already has the most preserved acres of farmland in the state with more than 60,500 acres of farmland currently in preservation, according to Deborah Bowers, a preservation specialist with the county.

More than 21 percent of the county's total acreage is preserved through either the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF), the county preservation program or the state's Rural Legacy Program.

This group of easements will be the first time in two years that the county has purchased easements after the commissioners asked a task force be created to study the county's preservation program.

A change in the preservation program stemming from the task force is allowing the county to purchase easements through a lump sum payment in addition of tax free interest installments over a 20-year period.

About half of the 25 easement applicants chose the lump sum payment option, Robertson said.

The easements purchased by the county Thursday total about $2.75 million. The county is expected to spend about $8 million on easements through this cycle with 25 applications, according to Bowers.

Bowers said that preservation is "very popular" in the county and that the land preservation department never has a shortage of applicants.

"Farming is popular in Carroll County and therefore farmland preservation is popular in Carroll County," she said.

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