|By JANE HOUIN
GAMBIER, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Bob Taft last week announced another $6.9 million in funding for the Clean Ohio Trails program to be divided among 30 projects statewide. As part of an educational push to increase visibility of the Clean Ohio program, Taft visited the Norris Farm in Gambier in an effort to highlight the Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Program, though which the Norris family received a grant to preserve 56 acres of farmland.
“These grants are part of our continuing promise to future generations of Ohioans, and I call upon the Ohio General Assembly to reauthorize funding for the Clean Ohio Fund,” said Taft. “The Clean Ohio Fund allows us to protect Ohio’s ecological treasures and preserve open space for the enjoyment of Ohio families.”
The $400 million Clean Ohio Fund provides community-directed investments for revitalizing urban areas, protecting rivers and watersheds, preserving green space and farmland, and expanding Ohio’s system of recreational trails Taft called for the creation of the Clean Ohio Fund, a $400-million bond program, in his 2000 State of the State address, and voters approved it in November 2000.
The awards Taft announced last week included a $380,000 grant to the village of Millersburg in nearby Holmes County to plan, design, engineer, construct and environmentally review a 4.72 mile, eight foot asphalt and adjoining eight foot chip and seal multi-purpose linear trail.
Taft made the announcements during a four-stop Clean Ohio tour highlighting each of the four grant programs of the Clean Ohio Fund. Taft visited Cleveland Metroparks (trails site) in Cuyahoga Heights; the Norris family farm (farmland preservation site) in Gambier; Southgate Park (green space conservation site) in Canton; and Harrison West Park Development (brownfield) in Columbus.
In the farmland preservation component of the Clean Ohio program, local governments and charitable organizations are eligible to apply for grants to purchase agricultural easements. The grants will be issued for up to 75 percent of the easement’s value, and the applicant must either provide matching funds for the remaining 25 percent of value or the farmer may donate that portion of the value of the easement. The state grant cannot exceed $1 million per agricultural easement.
The Clean Ohio Fund includes $25 million to help keep valuable farmland available for agricultural production through PDRs - purchase of development rights. In many cases, the development value of a farmer’s property is higher than it’s value for farm uses, so that farmers who choose to continue farming do so at a personal financial cost.
By granting an agricultural easement, the farmer can be compensated for the difference in price between agricultural value and development value, and the farmer agrees to place a deed restriction on his or her land, committing to keep it available for agricultural use in perpetuity. The farmer still owns the property; only the development rights have been sold. The easements “run with the land,” meaning that future property owners must abide by their terms.
The Ohio Director of Agriculture selects which applications to fund with the advisement of a 12-member Farmland Preservation Advisory Board. Special emphasis is given to protect farms with valuable soil types, including locally unique or important soils, microclimates or similar features; farms where agricultural best management practices are in use; local comprehensive land-use plans that identify areas for agricultural protection; land that is close to other agricultural lands, especially those protected from development pressures; and land that faces development pressures but is not directly in the path of urban development.
To date, 98 farms totaling 20.087 acres have been preserved with $18.75 million in Clean Ohio funds and another $6.8 million in matching federal funds through the farmland preservation program.
Last week’s announcement marked the fourth round of Clean Ohio Trails Funds grants. To date, more than $300 million has been allocated to Clean Ohio Fund projects including the Clean Ohio Trails Fund. A complete listing of Clean Ohio projects is available at www.taftnews.com
This farm news was published in the Oct. 11, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.