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Land preservation group reorganizes

The task force charged with creating a plan to help preserve farms, forests and open spaces in Harrison County has been reorganizing as they prepare to begin their second full year of work.
Members of the Harrison County Farm, Forest and Open Space Preservation Task Force, which was originally appointed in June 2004, are operating this year without any funding from the county council. (Last year, they had a $2,000 budget to assist with their work.)
Eric Wise, the county planner who serves as an ex officio member to the task force, said the group is close to completing a draft of a new ordinance designed to establish a basic conservation program and committee that could operate without the need for an attorney on staff.
The need for an attorney was one of the concerns expressed when the ordinance was presented to county officials last year, Wise said.
The task force also has spent considerable time discussing the pros and cons associated with a land lease program in which owners of high quality cropland and pasture could agree to continue working the land, not subdivide the land or develop for non-agricultural uses for a period of five, 10 or more years. In return, Wise said, the county would make a lease payment per acre.
‘The state currently rewards landowners for maintaining classified forests and wildlife areas by providing property tax breaks,’ he said, ‘and a local land lease program would be a way for local government to reward landowners for maintaining productive farmland in a similar manner.’
A proposed land lease program could be ready for review at the Farm, Forest and Open Space task force’s next meeting, which is April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Harrison County Court House.
With regard to funding needed to do its work, Wise said the task force is hopeful the county commissioners will establish a fund that will allow the public to make donations.
‘The task force has received over $500 in donations (to date) and cannot deposit or use the funds due to the lack of an account,’ he said.
The Harrison County Board of Commissioners created the task force in 2004 to identify productive agriculture and forest areas, as well as other desirable open space areas, in the county. The task force also is to denote forces that contribute to fragmentation and conversion of farm land, forests and open spaces to other uses, and develop recommended strategies to protect and preserve identified areas.
Participation in preserving land is strictly voluntary, Wise said.
Harrison County Commissioner Jim Heitkemper, who chairs the 17-member task force, said there were some changes made earlier this year to the appointments.
New members to the task force are Jim Blank, Tom Casper, Gary Geswein and Kenneth Schneider. They join original members Heitkemper, Greg Albers, Roscoe Emily, Jane Gettelfinger, Marty Hall, Larry Hauswald, Jim Klinstiver, Darrell Lind, Carl (Buck) Mathes, Dan Sutherland and Fred Uhl.
P.J. Chumley and C.J. Loudon replaced two other original appointees last year.
Besides Wise, other ex-officio members to the task force are Chris Byrd, Allen Pursell, Adrienne Rich and Sam Smith.
The public is invited to attend task force meetings, which are held the last Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. For more information about the Farm, Forest and Open Space Preservation Task Force, call 738-8927.