Voluntary ag districts up for debate

Published 5:31 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

By Staff
Public hearing is set for July 2
News Editor
Depending on who’s doing the talking, voluntary agricultural districts in the county could either help shield land from proposed outlying-landing-field plans or could be the method the Navy uses to take land for an OLF.
On Monday, Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson said again the districts would give the Navy a way to “back door” landowners into handing over their properties for military operations. Richardson contends an agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Agriculture would allow the Navy to take land here to use at Site C, the Navy’s favored proposed spot to train military pilots in the region.
But Commissioner Robert Cayton, who is president of the Beaufort County Grange, said the agricultural-district proposal would offer farmers and owners of farmland protection rather than harm them. The Grange is an agriculture-endorsing organization.
Cayton said the districts have nothing to do with zoning people’s properties and are not part of a sinister plot from the Defense Department. He said the districts are also endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the county chapter of the Grange.
On opposing the matter, Richardson is thus far “the lone voice in the wilderness,” a description fellow Commissioner Stan Deatherage bestowed upon him several months ago. On Monday, Deatherage said Richardson’s view could turn out to be right “when the smoke clears a year or two later.”
Rodney Woolard, who leads the county’s soil and water conservation office, describes the voluntary districts as part of a “cropland preservation” effort. He said it would apply to any land that is part of an agricultural endeavor, including forestry land.
Being a part of the districts could help protect farmers from legal battles, Cayton and Woolard said. That’s because if anyone buys land within a half-mile of the farmer, the buyer is told about the farming operations nearby.
Farmer Owen Peele, who owns land in Beaufort and Pamlico counties, said voluntary agricultural districts “promote the number one industry” here.
Beaufort County commissioners will conduct a public hearing on the voluntary agricultural districts July 2. Residents are allowed to speak on, or ask questions about, the proposal.