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Wednesday, 10 January 2007 00:00

Speaking out

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More than 300 people attended a public hearing on Land For Tomorrow in Asheville last week, overwhelming the expectations of those conducting the hearing. Some people drove for nearly two hours to come voice their support for the initiative.

 

The top emphasis from the public — what most at the hearing most wanted to see done with the money — was farmland conservation. Here’s a sample of what some had to say.

Don Smart, Haywood County, full-time farmer

“This doesn’t go far enough. What’s $1 billion going to do? Run the Iraq war for three days? With the price of land in Western North Carolina, that’s not going to go far. We want to save the farms but fellers, a man can’t make a living on a farm. What you going to do with a farm when you preserve it if a man can’t make a living on a farm? The General Assembly should do something to make farming more profitable. Putting more tax on the farmers to try to pay for this Land for Tomorrow, that’s not to solve the problems folks.”

George Ivey, Bethel Rural Preservation committee

“The state Farmland Preservation Trust Fund has been given a grand total of $50,000 over the past two years. That’s not enough to help farms in Bethel much less in all of North Carolina.”

Bill Yarborough, Bethel, farmer

“A working land protection program, if properly implemented, will keep land in the county tax base, provide jobs, provide open space and protect the resource base. Some say farming is dead. I don’t believe that. In Haywood County, agriculture comprises nearly a third of the economy. The Bethel area of Haywood County has a high concentration of intensive agriculture yet water quality is documented as some of the best. Working lands are important habitat for rare and endangered species. If this land is lost to development, most studies show a decline in resources will be evident.”

Paul Carlson, Macon County, director of Land Trust for the Little Tennessee

“There is evidence of 4,000 continuous years of agriculture on some of the lands that we’ve have been able to preserve as working lands in the last few years — 150 to 200 generations of mountain farmers. On our watch it is fixing to become extinct. The Farmland Preservation Trust has been getting zero. It has got to go up.”

Ted Carr, Bethel

“I lived in a state with no coordinated effort for farmland preservation. I saw hundreds and hundreds of farmland acres converted into private streets and cookie-cutter houses. That’s why we left. I encourage the legislature to continue this effort. Support farming — make it financially profitable.”

TJ Walker, Dillsboro, inn owner

“I want to salute you farmers. A couple words I haven’t heard yet today: urban sprawl and impact fees. I think a lot of our challenges and a lot of the profits for the developers need to be addressed with greater and more fair and equitable impact fees because a lot of our problems come from urban sprawl. We know there is going to be consistent development and consistent growth. We need a consistent source of revenue.”

Becky Smucker, Asheville, hiker with Carolina Mountain Club

“We have to face the fact that we must pay for this now or the opportunities will be gone. We are united in not wanting to explain to our children and grandchildren how we failed at this critical front.”

Jim Moore, Macon County, owner of Spring Ridge Dairy, who placed his farm in conservation easement with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee

“If it had not been for funding we would not have been able to do this. We have a generation of men and women who feel very strongly about what happens to this land. They are willing to give for a few cents on the dollar, but the window is closing very fast. This is a great way to leverage that.”

John Ager, manager of Hickory Nut Gap Farm and chair of Buncombe County Farmland Preservation board

“We want to keep it a farm. We are desperate to keep it a farm. But without the kind of funding that you all are talking about, it has a very good shot at being developed. There are six heirs who all have a different idea of what to do with the land. I am really counting on you guys to help us save our farm.”

Charlie Owen, board of directors of Nature Conservancy

“If we want future generations to have clean air and clean water, this project becomes all the more important. We have to continue to invest in our own natural resources. You need to consider all sources of revenue to make this a reality for future generations.”

Caroline Sutton, Asheville Home Builders Association

“We strongly support land and water conservation. However, funding based on development fees such as land transfer taxes is not appropriate. One industry or one sector of the economy should not be singled out to support this effort.”

Rachel Doughty, Asheville, attorney

“I have heard the real estate community up here worrying about homeowners, but I have seen a lot of homeowners come up and talk. If you look at who is making money right now, it is developers. I support taxing these luxury homes. I don’t think you can really call them homes because people don’t spend that much time in them.”

Jack Meckler, Asheville

“You can’t fund land conservation with a bake sale.”

Matt Ray, Haywood County trout farmer

“It is imperative we not have a water usage fee for farmers. We rank second in the state for trout farms. As farmers, we cannot be taxed to try to help us. You don’t tax them on one hand to try to help them on the other hand.”

Will Hamilton, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

“I have become acutely aware of the desperation among the farmers and landowners I talk to every day. I am here to speak for the landowners beating down our doors to help save their farms. The will of the land owners is there, the entity to provide support is there, but the funding to complete the land conservation deals is not there. The Land for Tomorrow bill is a ray of hope in a lot of my conversations with farmers.”

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