County seeks drought relief status

Rappahannock County could be designated a drought disaster area by the state, making its farmers eligible for compensation.

The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution at its monthly meeting Sept. 8 at the courthouse requesting
a drought designation so that farmers can apply for drought relief.

The board received a report from Kenner Love, Rappahannock’s Virginia Cooperative Extension agent, listing a 55 percent loss in mixed forage grasses, 49 percent in corn, 50 percent in soybeans and 38 percent in both apples and peaches this year.

The resolution sent to the governor’s office notes that “during the growing season of this year the County of Rappahannock has received considerably less rain than normal” resulting in conditions that “have severely affected farmers.”

County Administrator John W. McCarthy said Wednesday that he has heard verbally that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has received the resolution.

The board had sought documentation of losses from Rappahannock farmers to present to the state to send with their resolution requesting relief. Though the form such relief comes is determined by future state and federal legislation, the resolution’s passage enables farmers to begin the process of applying for drought aid.

A loss assessment report puts the dollar loss at $6.4 million for mixed-forage grasses. Losses in the apple crop are estimated at $380,000, corn at $38,500 and soybeans at $26,265.

In other action, the board discussed creating an open-space land use category used in determining property taxes.

Other counties have used the designation in setting the tax rate for “golf courses or for conservation to preserve scenic byway corridors, protect endangered species,” explained McCarthy.

The open space category takes into account that the land hasn’t been developed and sets the property tax rate accordingly.

Encouraging land conservation practices could promote such thing as the growth of warm-season grasses and such wildlife that thrives in them as the bobwhite quail, whose population is down since the 1970s due to the loss of habitat, McCarthy said.

Warm-season grass grows in clumps with spaces in between that wildlife favors, he explained.

The board took no action on the matter at last week’s meeting. McCarthy said he will be checking into how other counties are using the open-space designation and will prepare an ordinance for the board to consider — perhaps at the January meeting.

Supervisor Chris Parrish wondered if it “would encourage or discourage development.”

McCarthy said “if done right it could discourage development” while helping the local economy in other ways such as aiding wildlife-related tourism.

Supervisor Ronald L. Frazier wondered if there shouldn’t be a minimum acreage requirement to prevent land owners from “going wild” in seeking open-space designation.

McCarthy’s letter to the board that explains the open-space category said that there is a flexible minimum acreage requirement determined by the local governing body, starting at a minimum of five acres.

He told the board that the open- space designation “requires the owner to do something with it [the land]” within the confines of that category of use — such as promoting certain species, soil erosion abatement and timber management.

In a separate action related to land use, the board approved a $2,000 contribution toward a study of sustainable agriculture practices being undertaken by the Economic Revitalization Advisory Committee.

The board is also contributing $250 to be a sponsor of a football or volleyball game as requested by the Rappahannock County School Sports Association.

In other business, the board will consider joining other counties in requesting to “bail out” of the U.S. Department of Justice’s oversight of voting procedures in Rappahannock County.

Since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1964, Rappahannock County, along with most of the South, has been required to seek approval from the Justice Department for any change to elections management, “no matter how slight or how beneficial,” said Francie Schroeder, secretary of the Rappahannock County Electoral Board, in a letter to the supervisors.

“If we move a polling place we have to go to the Justice Department and a series of things has to be submitted,” said Rappahannock County Commonwealth Attorney Peter Luke.

The county needed DOJ approval when it moved the registrar’s office to the building next door.

Schroeder’s letter said that the bailout process requires supplying documentation and can be a lengthy process. She attended a presentation on the process in Manassas put on by an attorney who has handled several successful bailout applications. Rappahannock’s share to hire an attorney to handle the matter would be less than $5,000, her letter stated.

“If we can get if for $5,000 or less it would be worth the expense,” McCarthy said.

He and Luke will look into the matter further and report back to the supervisors next month.

The board also appointed Gary Light to succeed Thomas Tepper on the county Planning Commission. Tepper offered his resignation so that Parrish would be free to select his own nominee from the Stonewall-Hawthorne district he represents.

Light is a charter member of the Rappahannock County Conservation Alliance (RCCA) and a former president of the group. He is now on the advisory board of the Krebser Fund for Rappahannock County Conservation.

Light will serve the remainder of Tepper’s term, which runs through July 7, 2011.

The supervisors also reappointed Holly Lanigan to the Recreational Facilities Authority and named Jennifer Fitzhugh to succeed Jennifer Manly to the same authority. The terms are for four years.

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About James Ivancic 67 Articles
James Ivancic is a reporter for the Fauquier Times in Warrenton, Va. Contact him at jivancic@fauquier.com.