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Sanbornton considers Swain Farm conservation easement

August 25, 2010
SANBORNTON — After years of considering their options the owners of the Swain Farm have decided to preserve some of their farm land for future generations and is moving ahead with steps to obtain a conservation easement on 42.54 acres off Hunkins Pond Road.

Lisa Rixen, project manager for the Belknap County Conservation District, and Lisa Morin, coordinator of BCCD, came to the Sanbornton selectmen's meeting last week to explain options the town has to obtain the Swain Farm easement.

Sue Hoey of the state's Durham office for the USDA National Resource Conservation Commission joined the two women to explain the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. Hoey said funding through this program would be ideal for preserving the Swain property.

"The intent of this program is to protect and sustain the use of agricultural lands that meet certain criteria," Hoey said.

The applicants have to first meet their own criteria by filling out an adjusted gross income form and be in compliance with the Food Security Act. They must also be seeking the easement for land that is not steep. The property itself must also be approved as quality agricultural land with good soil quality and have previous approval for state agricultural programs.

"Through the FRPP, we'll then pay 50 percent of the cost for the property and the town must be able to prove they have the other 50 percent available through town money, an organization like the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, or some type of grant program," she said.

After helping with matching funds to buy the land, the FRPP steps aside Hoey said. The town, the town's Conservation Commission or any other organizations that help purchase the easement, would be responsible for conducting annual inspections for compliance with the guidelines set forth by the FRPP.

Selectmen Steve Ober asked if timber management would be considered in the easement process and Hoey said it was and that timber can be considered part of its agricultural value.

"Only 66 percent of the land can be forested, however. The rest needs to be viable for row crops, hay or other agricultural purposes," said Hoey.

She also explained easements do not affect the tax base of the town. In gaining a conservation easement the Swain family would be paid today's fair market value for their property but still be liable for the taxes. They may continue working the land also, but no more than 2 percent of that property can be an impervious surface, such as a barn or other structure.

Other local farms, like the Moulton Farm and Picnic Rock Farm in Meredith, have obtained easements recently, too, said Morin. By doing so they have guaranteed the land contained within the easement will not be developed and will remain agricultural land in perpetuity.

The Swain property is made up of two parcels located behind the Sanbornton Central School parking lot. One piece is 25.8 acres and the second is 16.72 acres, but the Swain's said they would like to remove 1.5 acres from the lots prior to the easement in case family members would like to build a home there one day.

Elaine Swain said her family has watched land become developed around the Lakes Region and would hate to think of their farmland some day being divided into house lots.

"Only one family can enjoy a house but a whole town can enjoy open land that has been preserved," she said.

The Swain family has the option of contributing 25 percent of the price toward the easement and Rixen told selectmen there were a number of other sources for such funds and possibly even private donors could help in the purchase. The board agreed to have Town Administrator Bob Veloski look at grant availabilities to see if the town could come up with their half of the purchase price.

"You've given up a lot of information to digest tonight and now; we'll have to see what we can do," said Chairman Dave Nickerson.

Applications for this year's funding are due by late September, but the FFRP will accept the application whenever the town is ready and hold it until funds become available again.

"It's a long process and could take up to 18 months to complete the closing," Hoey cautioned.

Swain said she is looking forward to knowing that the two lots on Hunkins Pond Road will be preserved for the future of Sanbornton.

"So many people go out there walking and enjoying the land so this is one way that we can be sure it will always be like that," she said.

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