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Open space task force will likely ask for time extension

With two months left before the end of the year, the Farm, Forest and Open Space Task Force is now preparing a report to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners in hopes of being asked to continue its work next year.
The county commissioners established the 21-member task force about mid-year, giving them until Dec. 31 to make recommendations for preserving ‘ or conserving ‘ designated land throughout Harrison County. When the resolution was passed earlier this year, it said the task force could possibly be renewed for one year.
Since its first meeting in June, the group has met monthly and, occasionally, twice a month. Early meetings were spent developing a mission statement and a vision and establishing goals.
Subcommittees, organized a few months ago, have been meeting between task force meetings.
If all goes well, the task force will make its presentation Dec. 20. Working backward from that date, the group decided at its Oct. 26 meeting that subcommittee reports are needed by noon on Nov. 16 so they can be written in a cohesive style.
The entire group will get its first look at the completed report when it meets Nov. 30. Then, it will meet again Dec. 7 to give the report final approval.
‘The key word is cooperation,’ said Commissioner Jim Heitkemper, who chairs the task force. ‘We’ll have a better community because of it.’
One of the subgroups, Fragmentation and Conversion, is compiling a list of factors that contribute to those processes, and what can be done to restrain them.
‘The idea here is to determine where the leverage points are so we can slow the process down,’ said Larry Miles, who serves as facilitator for the task force and works on this particular subcommittee.
Another subgroup’s responsibility is to design criteria for identifying land targeted for conservation activities, whether it’s farm land, forest land or open spaces, which will referred to by a different name, possibly scenic area, so the public has a better understanding of what’s being targeted.
‘When we started discussing ‘open space,’ each member of the subgroup had a different idea of what that meant,’ said Karen Dearlove, coordinator of the Lincoln Hills RC&D and task force secretary. She chairs the Criteria subgroup and is an ex-officio member of the task force.
The Strategies and Options subgroup has defined five alternatives for protect designated areas, with the most desirable being the establishment of a requirement that all deeds that create new lots be approved by the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission before they’re accepted by the county auditor. This process could be immediately implemented, the subgroup said.
‘The goal would be to stop illegal divisions of property before they occur,’ said a report submitted by attorney Chris Byrd, an ex-officio task force member.
Jane Gettelfinger, chair of the Agriculture, Forest and Open Space Identification subcommittee, asked for guidance in locating feed lots and farm operations. When she asked how small a farm the group wants to include, answers varied somewhat. Gettelfinger said she will proceed in gathering information.
Work for the last subcommittee, Public Outreach and Education, is slower to begin, but the final report is expected to include information that shows how the task force will help county property owners.
Several members of the task force will attend a farmland preservation seminar in Lexington, Ky., later this month. Scott Everett, regional director for the American Farmland Trust who gave two presentations on land preservation here in February, wants to meet with the task force.