Cuomo breathes life into farmland protection effort

05/31/2014 12:00 PM |
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Marratooka North Farm, an 18-acre farm off Main Road in Mattituck was the last North Fork farm to be protected through the program.

Marratooka North Farm, an 18-acre farm off Main Road in Mattituck, was the last North Fork farm to be protected through the program. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The state is bringing back to life a program aimed at protecting the state’s farmland, having secured $20.5 million in funding for the initiative, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this month.

To help plan for the future of agriculture, the Farmland Protection Program will provide county and municipal governments — and for the first time, soil and water conservation districts and not-for-profit conservation organizations (like the Peconic Land Trust) — funding to help purchase development rights on farmland, ensuring they stay in agriculture.

In 2008, funding for the program, which is made available through the state Environmental Protection Fund and administered by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, was cut by more than 50 percent.

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Grants have not been offered for the past five years, said Melissa Spiro, land preservation coordinator for Southold Town.

“This is very important,” Ms. Spiro said. “They partially fund projects, so we put in some money, they put in some money, and we end up having a protected parcel [of farmland].”

Between 1998 and 2008, from which data was readily available, the town received over $7 million in grants through the program, helping it to preserve about 470 acres, she said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the funding comes at the perfect time, as the town as exhausted it available CPF funds — making this grant program one of the few options the town has at protecting farmland.

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“I am very happy to hear it, it is surely needed,” he said. “Hopefully the town will be able to apply for these grants.”

With no available funding to pay for remaining costs — because the allowable state contribution is a maximum of 87.5 percent of the total — he said the town could potentially seek funding sources from the county.

The grant program has also been streamlined, cutting back on the documents required and creating milestones to ensure projects reach completion under “a more practical timeframe,” according to the release.

“In previous contracts, the average length of time between grant application and landowner payment was far too lengthy to build predictability into the process,” the release reads.

Ms. Spiro said the town’s most recent project perfectly displays limitations of the prior process.

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