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Tinicum joins municipalities to explore agriculture land preservation


Editor's Note: This story has been updated to  reflect that the Heritage Conservancy — not the Heritage Foundation — that is working on the agricultural land preservation program.

Along with 10 other Bucks County municipalities, the Tinicum Board of Supervisors recently received a letter from The Heritage Conservancy regarding the township’s interest in participating in the creation of a Bucks County agricultural land preservation program.

The program currently exists in several other Pennsylvania counties including Northampton, but currently none of its type exists in Bucks County.

The Heritage Conservancy, founded in 1958 and based in Doylestown, is a nonprofit that works in partnership with communities, landowners, businesses, and governments to ensure that regional landscapes endure and flourish.

Vice Chair Eleanor Breslin recounted a meeting she and Luke Sorenson, chair of the Tinicum Land Preservation Committee (LPC), had with a Heritage representative.

She explained the state of Pennsylvania has an agricultural program through which county municipalities could indicate how much agricultural land preservation money they choose to allocate, for which they would then receive a dollar-for-dollar state match. When a municipality pledges its money, it can only go to the preservation of agricultural lands within that county.

“So far, out of the Bucks municipalities approached, Bedminster, West Rockhill, Plumstead, Nockamixon and Springfield have expressed interest in the program. Should Tinicum Township join in, the Heritage Conservancy will take the proposal to Bucks County officials to begin official conversations, hashing out with the participating municipalities how the agri-program could work within our municipalities.”

Expressing concerns about rushing into the program without enough information gathering, Member Richard Rosamilia stated he had met with John Ives, director of Tinicum Agriculture Land Preservation, “who had no real information about this program, though he had heard about it.”

One sticking point for Rosamilia was Tinicum Township’s lack of high-quality soil or “prime farmland” as it is officially designated. “Tinicum is tough in this regard and Bucks County is different than other counties who are participating in this program. Bedminster will always be on top of the list with their high-quality farmland soils. I suggest we meet with Bucks County directly and discuss this further before we engage with any of this stuff.”

While she had no issues in meeting with the county or with Ives, Breslin said that any meetings with Bucks County officials had nothing to do with providing the Heritage Conservancy a timely response regarding Tinicum’s level of interest. “As it will in no way pledge us to ultimately participating, I would want Tinicum to be included in the conversations with the five other committed municipalities.”

Rosamilia pushed back, arguing that Heritage’s early August date for a Tinicum thumbs up should not dictate when the board meets with the county to collect more data and offer it Tinicum’s commitment. “If we choose to support this program after our next board meeting in mid-August, would our participation in it then become null and void?”

A frustrated Breslin replied, “No. But if we don’t decide tonight whether we support the idea of their program, why would Heritage invite us to be a part of the conversation?”

Board Chairman Jim Helms jumped in to help clarify the back-and-forth between his two board members. He stated the Heritage letter seems to be asking only if Tinicum is interested in the program concept and if the township would want to be a part of the discussions about its formation.

“Legitimately, part of gathering more information would mean our going ahead and expressing our interest in the Heritage program,” stated Helms. As a parallel, since Bucks County would need to be a facilitator of this, we can certainly talk to them about what they think.” Additionally, Helms suggested the board reach out to counties already involved in the Heritage program for their take on the pros and cons of the Heritage program.

Rosamilia pointed out another concern, that the only Tinicum property on the list since 2008 was situated on a floodplain. “Why would we want to spend any money to preserve land in a floodplain?”

Breslin clarified she was not stating Tinicum should jump into the program to preserve this particular parcel of land. “I see this program as a potential opportunity to conserve additional Tinicum lands, with matched funds from the state. And I believe there are other eligible properties in the township that are not currently on the list.”

Luke Sorenson, the LPC chair who participated in the Heritage discussion with Breslin, spoke to further clarify the benefits of agreeing to join in the discussions.

“I absolutely see this as something we should consider, for the exact reason that Tinicum does not have high quality soils.” He explained the process that was described in the Heritage meeting has been used successfully in other counties and, it would help Tinicum to bypass the Bucks County soil scoring process.

“We actually have a lot of properties here that can meet the state’s minimum criteria, which are rather different than Bucks County’s,” continued Sorenson. Pennsylvania state criteria require the presence of 50% of soil types rated number one (corn-growing quality), to two or three (soybean-growing quality) up to soil type four (hay-producing quality).

“We would be able to earmark our land preservation money, state-matched, by directly choosing select Tinicum properties without going through the Bucks County scoring process.”

Sorenson stressed that currently, Tinicum is missing out on the availability of state funding. He emphasized that some prime Tinicum land parcels that could meet the state’s preservation guidelines are also some of the most developable parcels in the township.

The board agreed to draft a letter of interest to be a part of the Heritage Conservancy's conversation with Bucks County, joining with the five other neighboring municipalities.

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