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Agency Of Agriculture Disputes Exit 4 Developer's Farmland Preservation

VPR/Steve Zind
Developer Jesse Sammis (center) hopes to build on 172 acres he owns next to Interstate 89 in Randolphnd he owns near Exit 4 for a large mixed-use project.

The Agency of Agriculture says plans for a large development at the Randolph exit on Interstate 89 will preserve less primary farmland than the developer claims.

The District Three Environmental Commission is conducting a partial review of a development plan for 172 acres just off the interstate.

A critical question is how much prime agricultural land will be preserved on-site.

In a letter to the commission the Agency of Agriculture some of the land the developer says will be preserved as prime agricultural soils doesn’t warrant that designation.

“We disagree with some of the items on their map that they would say could be used for agricultural mitigation,” says Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Diane Bothfeld.

She says part of the property that is claimed as primary agricultural land in the developers plans is actually wetland.

"We disagree with some of the items on their map that they would say could be used for agricultural mitigation." - Deputy Agriculture Secretary Diane Bothfeld

The impact of existing buildings also reduces the amount of prime agricultural land available to be preserved.

“Class II wetlands can’t be accepted for agricultural mitigation. Then there were some issues where there’s a barn on the southern property and a driving range, and those create some previous impact to the land,” Bothfeld says.

Bothfeld says the developer will need to preserve 54 acres on site and 55 off site to meet the requirement for protecting prime soils.

The environmental commission has pressed developer Jesse Sammis to leave more land available for farming at the site.

But keeping his plan intact would also require Sammis to preserve land elsewhere through off-site mitigation to compensate for additional farmland lost to buildings and parking lots.

It’s not clear if the commission will allow that.

In its letter the Agency of Agriculture said the project remains in a state of flux and it can’t be sure that there won’t be more loss of prime soils when the development is subject to a more complete review.

“Upon careful review of this information, the Agency believes that the Applicant’s plans require further consideration,” the agency letter says.

The district environmental commission will hold another hearing on the plan next week.

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