BERRYVILLE — Clarke County officers need native lawmakers to persevering with pushing the Normal Meeting to assist counties protect farmland by limiting nutrient credit score buying and selling.
The problem tops the county’s checklist of priorities for the 2021 legislative session that can convene Jan. 13. Different priorities, ranked decrease on the checklist, embody measures geared toward getting extra state funding for public faculties and high-speed web service for parts of the county with out it.
The Clarke County Board of Supervisors not too long ago introduced the checklist to the three lawmakers representing the county, two of whom have already got launched laws that’s on maintain or has failed.
Agriculture has lengthy been the county’s financial mainstay. County land-use guidelines are designed to protect Clarke’s largely rural atmosphere.
However “if some modifications are usually not made” to the nutrient credit score program, mentioned county Pure Assets Planner Alison Teetor, “a whole lot of our good farmland might be transformed to forest.”
Up to now 4 years, Teetor mentioned, six Clarke County farms have enrolled in nutrient credit score buying and selling with intentions of changing the land to forests. These farms comprise about 725 acres, she mentioned.
Supervisors Chairman David Weiss mentioned he understands timber have been planted on a lot of the enrolled farmland.
“The (credit score) program particularly seeks agriculture property to take away from manufacturing and, usually, timber are planted and maintained in perpetuity,” the legislative precedence checklist reads.
If younger individuals and others are to be inspired to begin farming, they have to be capable of purchase land on which they will farm, mentioned Weiss, the Buckmarsh District supervisor.
The Virginia Division of Environmental High quality (DEQ), through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Change Program, seeks to forestall extreme quantities of phosphorous from entering into watersheds and ecosystems and doubtlessly harming water high quality. This system permits builders to purchase credit to offset having to satisfy state stormwater runoff necessities.
County officers keep they need to be capable of enact rules limiting nutrient credit score applications involving land conversion to areas the place the influence on agricultural actions could be minimal. Location, soil varieties, the slope of land and potential soil loss or erosion must be components taken under consideration, they keep.
Greater than 150 rivers and streams move into Chesapeake Bay’s drainage basin, which covers greater than 64,000 sq. miles and components of six states. Nevertheless, among the many three states that the bay primarily impacts, solely Virginia lets farmland conversion qualify as a nutrient credit score, Teetor mentioned. The opposite two — Maryland and Pennsylvania — don’t, partly due to their targets to protect farmland acreage, she mentioned.
In response to a report that Teetor ready for the supervisors, Clarke County is a horny place to arrange a “nutrient financial institution” as a result of its hydrologic unit code (principally its watershed boundary) is adjoining to different HUCs within the Potomac area.
One other incentive is that the value of phosphorus within the area ranges from $18,000 to $23,000 per pound, “making land conversion essentially the most profitable of buying and selling alternatives,” the report reads.
The legislative precedence checklist asserts that Clarke County prefers for credit to be accessible solely from throughout the HUC unit the place credit are wanted, not from adjoining items. Clarke is adjoining to 5 out of seven Potomac hubs, so nutrient credit may be purchased within the county for developments in these areas.
Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, launched throughout the 2020 common Normal Meeting session Home Invoice 1393. Left in committee, the invoice aimed to forestall builders from shopping for credit in adjoining HUCs the place a locality — like Clarke — has fewer than 20,000 residents and covers lower than 200 sq. miles.
Home Invoice 1464, launched by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Boyce, was carried over to the 2021 session. It merely would enable a locality, by adopting an ordinance, to limit the full nutrient credit generated throughout the locality and utilized in an adjoining HUC.
Lawmakers made no guarantees to the supervisors.
Nonetheless, the matter stays “completely on the high of my checklist” of issues to perform, Gooditis instructed them.
“Hold engaged on it,” Millwood District Supervisor Terri Catlett instructed her, as a result of “yearly, we lose just a little extra” farmland.