Carroll County commissioners hope to win $2.75 million in state funding to boost their efforts to preserve farmland in the Liberty watershed, a sensitive environmental area facing development pressure.
"I think it's a good thing," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said. "We have a small nucleus of farms in the area that are already preserved, but we need to protect more of them to be sure that farming remains viable there."
The commissioners applied last week for $4.75 million in state Rural Legacy money. About $2 million would be used to preserve farmland in the Little Pipe Creek watershed. The rest would aid preservation efforts in the Liberty watershed, an area the county calls the Upper Patapsco.
Although the metropolitan area remains at odds with Carroll County over a longstanding watershed protection agreement, officials from Baltimore City and surrounding counties have endorsed Carroll's land preservation efforts.
At a meeting of the Reservoir Watershed Protection Committee in Baltimore on Friday, members unanimously voted to support Carroll's plan to preserve more than 10,000 acres in the Upper Patapsco, an area bordered by Finksburg, Westminster and Hampstead.
"All three of us believe strongly in farm preservation," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said of the three-member board. Gouge is Carroll County's representative on the committee, which is an arm of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. "This vote of support is important to us."
The southernmost end of the Upper Patapsco area is within a few hundred yards of Liberty Reservoir.
"The rural legacy area would be another measure to protect agricultural land and the watershed, and because of the conflict over this agreement, I think it's very appropriate to establish this rural legacy area to protect the Liberty Reservoir," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said.
Since the Rural Legacy program's inception in 1998, Carroll has been awarded nearly $4 million in state funds. Carroll officials said they hope to hear in the spring whether they have won additional funding.
Rural Legacy, the state's newest preservation program, provides money to buy farms and other rural areas to protect them from development. Other lands targeted for protection include forests, stream buffers, historic villages, battlefields and endangered species' habitats.
In Carroll, easements on 1,235 acres in the Little Pipe Creek watershed have been bought through the program. The Little Pipe Creek area was the first to be designated by the three-member Board of County Commissioners for the state Rural Legacy grant program.
In July, the commissioners announced plans to apply for Rural Legacy funds for the Upper Patapsco area, which drains into Liberty Reservoir, the source of drinking water for 1.8 million Marylanders.
The Upper Patapsco area encompasses about 15,000 acres and lies between Routes 140 and 30. It includes 17 farms that are preserved for agricultural use by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation or the Maryland Environmental Trust.
Carroll ranks among the top counties nationally in agricultural preservation. The county has about 300,000 acres of farmland and has set a goal of preserving at least one-third of its farmland by 2020. To date, 33,473 acres have been preserved.