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Conservation group seeks extension

Land conservation, long a concern for many Harrison Countians, was placed on the front-burner earlier this year when a 17-member task force was appointed to make recommendations for developing ‘smart growth’ here.
On Monday night, task force member Bob Schickel and many of his colleagues appealed to the Harrison County Commissioners for a one-year extension and budget to continue their work. The commissioners established the Farm, Forest and Open Space Task Force last summer.
Schickel said Harrison County’s undeveloped acreage is at risk of vanishing because of development pressures.
Between May 2003 and May 2004, 399 new parcels were created, with 327 vacant parcels developed last year and 276 vacant parcels developed this year to date, he said.
These numbers may include simply placing electric service on the lot, he said.
Schickel said 260 permits have been issued for new septic systems and 148 permits for septic system repairs.
‘Growth is certain for Harrison County, which is just 10 minutes from the Kentucky state line,’ Schickel said. ‘Smart growth gives everyone the best of both worlds.
‘It’s definitely not anti-development,’ he said.
Task force members gave each of the three county commissioners a one-inch-thick binder containing their findings and recommendations for land conservation.
The document includes information about fragmentation and conversion forces, strategies and options for land conservation, identification of lands for conservation, plus a section about public outreach.
‘Any conservation program requires solid community support, if it is going to be successful,’ the report states. ‘The local citizens must understand and be aware of the issues and options available, so that they can effectively participate in designing a program that truly responds to the needs of their community.’
After the report was distributed, Schickel said, ‘This will give you something to read during your Christmas break.’
Commissioner Jim Heitkemper has already read it ‘ he chaired the task force.
‘I’ve been personally rewarded,’ said Heitkemper, who farms in the Elizabeth area. ‘It seemed like a monumental task, figuring out how to do it … but the problems seemed to melt away.’
Schickel reminded everyone that land conservation isn’t just a topic for farmers.
‘It’s a team effort,’ he said, which is evident by the cross section of members of the task force that includes realtors and developers, as well as farmers.
Other members are: Greg Albers, P.J. Chumley, Ron Coleman, Roscoe Emily, Jane Gettelfinger, Marty Hall, Larry Hauswald, Jim Klinstiver, Darrell Lind, C.J. Loudon, Carl (Buck) Mathes, Jerry Sanders, Dan Sutherland, Fred Uhl and Donnie Wolfe. Ex-officio members Harrison County Planner Eric Wise, county attorney Chris Byrd, Allen Pursell of The Nature Conservancy, Harrison County Extension Agent Adrienne Rich, and Sam Smith of the Indiana Land Resources Commission. Karen Dearlove, coordinator of the Lincoln Hills RC&D, serves as secretary.
Larry Miles, who lives on a 212-acre farm that’s been in his family since 1809, has been the group’s facilitator.
Dearlove told the commissioners that there are ‘many people intrigued (with the task force’s work) and are watching to see how this develops.’
On Monday night, the task force made two recommendations: that the commissioners adopt a resolution that would establish the task force through 2005 with an operating budget appropriated by the county council, and to develop a procedure that requires all deeds and surveys that create new parcels to be processed and approved through the Harrison County Planning and Zoning office before it’s processed by the county recorder and/or auditor.
‘The task force requests that these recommendations, as well as other findings and recommendations (in the binder) are favorably considered in order to continue the important local initiative for rural land conservation within Harrison County,’ Schickel said.
The task force listed six recommendations it hopes to carry out next year, and had 27 suggestions for other agencies, including the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County, Harrison County Community Foundation, Lincoln Hills RC&D, Indiana Land Resources Council, to help with the process.
J.R. Eckart, who chairs the board of commissioners, said it’s their tradition to make any necessary reappointments at their first meeting of the year.
Heitkemper and Eckart both have been on the Ultimate Farmland Preservation Tour that shows participants what Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are doing to preserve farmland while directing housing and commercial building to targeted areas.
Both men and Commissioner James Goldman expressed interest in reappointing a task force to continue the work next year.
‘We certainly appreciate the efforts that have gone on since the resolution … ‘ Eckart said. ‘It makes me proud to be part of a community this interested in the future.’
The county commissioners will be making appointments at their Jan. 3 meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Harrison County Court House.