Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has signed into law state State Senator Andy Dinniman’s legislation to strengthen Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program.
Act 44 of 2011 deletes from the original Act 43 of 1981 several paragraphs misunderstood by some to give landowners the option of amending or even ending the easements on their farms after 25 years. Dinniman’s legislation clarifies that Act 43 easements are perpetual, thus ensuring the permanent protection of 442,000 acres of farmland easements purchased since 1989 through Act 43 with more than $1.1 billion in state, county and local taxpayer funds.
“In Chester County alone, Act 43 and taxpayer funds have been used to preserve 249 farms totaling more than 23,446 acres, which in turn has helped our county retain its agriculture heritage and protect us from further overdevelopment,” Dinniman said. “It would have been a terrible blow to our county’s open space initiative and a huge waste of taxpayer dollars if this progress was jeopardized due to unclear language in the original law. Fortunately, the passage of Act 44 eliminates that possibility, and we can now take comfort in knowing that a permanent agricultural easement is just that.”
On Tuesday, local conservationists lauded Senator Dinniman for passage of the bill.
"All of us in the Land Trust community are exceedingly grateful to Andy Dinniman - first for recognizing the misleading wording of the Agricultural Easement Act, and then following through with determination to correct it,” said Bonnie Van Alen, president and executive director of the Willistown Conservation Trust. “Without Andy's foresight and perseverance the preservation of many acres of Pennsylvania's best farmland might have been undone, and millions of dollars of taxpayer money gone unnecessarily to waste. Thank you Andy for once again advocating for our precious farmland and natural resources."
The county’s director of open space preservation, Bill Gladden, said, “Chester County has partnered with the Commonwealth to preserve over 21,500 acres of the most productive non-irrigated agricultural soil in the world. To make it clear that farmland preservation is permanent is good for the County, the Commonwealth, and consumers of our world class agricultural products."
Between 1982 and 1997, development consumed 1,140,000 acres of Pennsylvania farmland and open space, according to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Farmland Preservation. Since the creation of its farmland preservation program, Pennsylvania ranks No. 1 in the nation in terms of farmland protection.