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County will spend $2.7 million to preserve land

The fifth project application round for the Farmland and Natural Areas Program moved closer to completion this week.

At its regular meeting this week, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners approved the spending of $2,798,938 of FNAP funds to acquire permanent easements on 12 properties. The properties total 1,325 acres.

The agricultural easements include properties owned by Lewellyn and Bernadette Stoffel, 178 acres, Vermillion; Dolores Gergen, 199 acres, Hampton; Jerold and Karen Otte, 139 acres, Hampton; and Marian Frandrup and Arthur Frandrup Estates, 120 acres, Hampton. Other properties are located in Waterford, Greenvale and Sciota townships.

The natural area easements include properties in Sciota and Waterford townships.

The fifth round application process began almost two years ago. Fifty applications were received. The final recommendations were made about a year ago. Appraisals and negotiations began with the highest-ranking projects.

The estimated cost to the county to acquire the nine farmland easements is $976,899 or 30 percent of the total costs. The estimated cost to acquire the three natural area easements is $141,509 or 35 percent of the costs. There is a minimum of $175,000 of Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council fund to the natural area projects on a reimbursement basis.

The estimated fund balance after these project expenditures are $2.25 million for farmland and slightly more than $2 million for natural areas.

The program

The Dakota County Farmland and Natural Areas Program is a voluntary program in which Dakota County and other partners work with willing landowners to achieve mutual land protection and natural resource stewardship goals through the acquisition of conservation easements or fee title.

The overall goal of the program is to protect large, contiguous, agricultural areas, while providing water quality and wildlife habitat benefits; and to protect, connect and manage priority natural areas

The original goal of the program was to protect 5,000 to 10,000 acres over 10 years. In the past seven years, 3,304 acres of farmland and 1,991 acres of natural areas have been protected. Another 35 projects, totaling an additional 3,268 acres, are in varying stages of completion. The value for the 8,563 acres is $77.5 million. However, by leveraging non-county funding and landowner donation, the total county cost is 23 percent, or $17 million.

Each year, the number of submitted applications increases. Some landowners have enrolled parts of their property in the program every year since the first application round. The program has received several awards for excellence.

Dakota County citizens voiced their opinions through countywide surveys over the past several years. They were, and are, concerned about the growth in the county and the loss of open space. County citizens reaffirmed their commitment to protect and preserve open space when they passed a $20 million bond referendum in 2002. The funding was to be used to purchase development rights and establish permanent farmland and natural areas easements.

The Dakota County Board of Commissioners has appointed a 14-member, citizen advisory committee that includes two members from each of the seven commissioner districts. Committee members review and evaluate the applications submitted each year, they score and rank them, and recommend projects to the county board for approval. The advisory committee members must rotate off the committee after three consecutive two-year terms.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606