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Farmland plan nears completion

Douglas County has a tentative plan for preserving farmland in the county.

After nearly two years of work, the Farmland Preservation Plan Steering Committee made its final recommendations last week before the Land Conservation Committee opened the plan Thursday for public comment. Most of the changes made by the steering committee were included in the plan posted Thursday on the county's website.

The public has 30 days to weigh in for inclusion in the plan before the final draft is forwarded to the Douglas County Board for possible adoption in December. The draft plan is posted at www.douglascountywi.org under the "news" tab.

The plan outlines areas for preservation, vision and goals of the plan, and environmental preservation among other issues related to farming in Douglas County.

Any public comment that could result in substantive change in the plan would result in meeting with the Land Conservation, Farmland Preservation and County Board chairpersons to determine how to proceed, said Christine Ostern, land conservationist for Douglas County.

This week, the county intends to send the plan to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which will also have the opportunity to weigh in on the plan before the final draft is presented to the Douglas County Board.

The Wisconsin Farmland Preservation Act was enacted in June 1977 to provide assistance to local governments for farmland planning and to provide tax relief to farmers who chose to participate in the program. The 1977 Farmland Preservation Program was repealed and recreated in 2009 by Gov. Jim Doyle in response to growing pressures to convert farmland to nonagricultural uses. The Working Lands Initiative, 2009 Wis. Act 28, is intended to address rapid land conversion and protect the $59 billion industry vital to the state's economy and cultural heritage.

Douglas County is among the last counties in the state to be funded to develop a plan as required the Working Lands Initiative. The new plan must be in place by the end of the year.

If the County Board doesn't adopt it during its regular meeting Dec. 21, following a presentation about the plan, the County Board will have to hold a special meeting to get the plan done, said County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert.

The Working Lands Initiative directs local governments to revise existing plans to better preserve agricultural land, minimize conflicting land uses, and promote soil and water conservation through planning, zoning, agricultural enterprise areas and conservation easements, and tax credits.

Public comment will be accepted by Christine Ostern until Nov. 13 at 1313 Belknap St., Room 206, Superior, WI 54880, or christine.ostern@douglascountywi.org.

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