Farmland Preservation Grants Ready: Deadline is July 2 —

Farmland Preservation Grants Ready: Deadline is July 2

By Patty Mamula; May 18, 2007 © Capital Press

Application deadline is July 2 for Wash. program

The Washington state Legislature approved and funded a new grant program last year to preserve farmland.

Of the $9 million appropriated for the farmland grants from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, $4.3 million is still available. The application deadline is July 2.

Recently, the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation (IAC), which manages the program, offered a three-hour workshop for 25 interested applicants in North Bend, Wash.

Although the grants are open to city and county agencies only, more than half of the people who attended represented various land trust organizations.

Kammie Bunes, who is one of five IAC grants managers and primarily responsible for counties in Western Washington, presented information about the program, how it works, eligible projects and how they're evaluated.

"Other organizations may partner with the city or county for these grants," she said. "Conservation districts may be in partnership with a land trust and or a landowner. Although the city or county may not be the primary driver of the grant application, they will be the ones with the contractual agreement."

The maximum grant amount is $750,000, and applicants must provide at least 50 percent in matching resources

To begin the process, a one-page letter of intent must be completed by June 1. It includes the official contact name, a short (50 words or less) description of the proposed project and the amount requested. The letter doesn't obligate an applicant.

After the July 2 due date, the IAC grant managers check it, provide suggestions and feedback to the applicant and try to visit the project site. "We can be your best friend and worst critic," said Bunes.

At the end of July, a 30-minute project review meeting is scheduled. "This is your opportunity to summarize your project in person. It's the time to bring the farm to the advisory committee," said Bunes. "All the committee members either grew up on a farm, are part owner of a farm or have farming in their background."

The final deadline is Sept. 7, after which there is an evaluation meeting in October and a recommended list, ranked in order of importance, is sent to the 2008 Legislature for their approval. Final approval will be in summer 2008.

Since 1950, according to the IAC, the number of Washington farms decreased by more than 50 percent, and the number of farmland acres dropped by 17 percent.

The goal of the grant program is to preserve working farms and lands for farming in the future. It's not to protect habitat. Eligible land parcels are usually at least 20 acres that are devoted primarily to livestock or agricultural commercial purposes. Lands where crops are taxed as forestland are excluded. Wetlands cannot exceed 20 percent of the property, so only 20 percent can be nontillable.

Grant proposals must include an acquisition component.

Bunes described the classic way one of the grants might work. A farmer with a large piece of property would sell part of it to the city or county as a conservation easement. An easement restricts real estate and commercial and industrial development. The municipality then buys the land with grant money and matching money. The farmer retains the title and continues to own and manage the land. Then, the city or county has a responsibility to monitor future uses of the land to ensure compliance with the terms of the easement.

To meet grant eligibility requirements, the easement must be in place for at least 25 years. The ones submitted to date have been in perpetuity.

"This is only our second year administering the program," said Bunes. A common concern among representatives of land trusts is whether or not a conservation organization could be listed as the co-holder of the easement along with the county. Their primary concern is to legally establish the relationship between the land trust and the county, especially in counties that don't have resources to maintain the easement where it will fall to the land trust to do so.

For policy updates regarding questions about leasing, co-owning and co-managing easement lands, she advised visiting www.iac.wa.gov/iac/grants/farmland.htm

Marguerite Austin, IAC Manager of Recreation and Habitat, detailed how to fill out the application. Booklets containing application forms and procedures were distributed.

Austin highlighted important parts of the application. For instance, maps that show the location of a project within a geographic region of the state and ones that show it in a specific location are required. Austin recommended that all maps show clear identifiers, such as bodies of water, highways, local roadways and landmarks, so people reading the map can clearly identify the proposed project area within five miles or so.

"The project description is the only written description that the Legislature and evaluators will see. It's also the description that's used for press releases. So, it's very important," she said.

The applications are filled out electronically using the agency's PRISM software. Information about how to access it and minimum system requirements is available at www.iac.wa.gov/oiac/prism.htm.

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