AGNEW — Forty-four acres of prime Dungeness Valley dairy farmland will remain in agricultural use forever under an easement bought by Clallam County commissioners with their Conservation Futures Fund.
The easement paid $567,899 to farmers Jerry and Mary Schmidt — $346,249 in county money and $221,650 in federal funds from the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The county’s share came from $250,000 set aside from timber revenues and budgeted in 2002, the interest it earned, and about $60,000 in new county money, Commissioner Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, said Sunday.
The sum included about $10,000 that about 600 private citizens had donated to the Conservation Futures Fund.
Commissioners appropriated the money following a public hearing Dec. 7. They acted to meet an end-of-year deadline to receive the federal funds, Tharinger said.
“If we didn’t take some action, there would be no dollars available in the future,” he said.
“I think we did the right thing.”
Land trust acquisition
The easement, which represents the independently appraised difference Schmidt would receive from selling the land to developers, paid off the loan Schmidt had used to buy the property.
Now the easement is owned by the North Olympic Land Trust, which sealed the deal last week.
The county, through its advisory Agricultural Commission, had solicited proposals for farmland easements across Clallam County, but received only 15 responses.
Most were for 15-acre plots, the minimum size under the county’s agricultural resource zoning.
“We wanted a larger chunk that would stay in agriculture,” said Tharinger.
“Larger acreage would have more agricultural viability. That’s why we want to a larger acreage.”
The Schmidts’ land near Spring Road lies next to the Olympic Discovery Trail, for which the Schmidts granted an easement a couple of years ago, and stretches nearly to Old Olympic Highway.
The transaction with Schmidt exhausted the Conservation Futures Fund, Tharinger said, and there is no immediate plan to replenish it.
Timber revenues have been low recently, he said. Commissioners could fund more easements through a property tax of a quarter-cent per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which Tharinger said they are unlikely to do.
An alternate revenue route would be a real estate excise tax, which would require voter approval.“Right now I don’t see us replenishing [the conservation fund] in the near term, which would be the next few months,” Tharinger said.