During the Ashe County Board of Commissioners meeting held on March 18, Judy Bare and Dale Wineberg, the chairman of the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board, gave a report about the impact of the N.C. 221 widening project on local farmland.
At a Feb. 25 public meeting with Jamille Robbins, the public involvement officer at the N.C. DOT, the Ashe County Voluntary Farmland Preservation Board asked if farmland on volunteer agricultural districts (VADs) had any special protections from the N.C. 221 expansion project.
“The answer is no, there is no specific protection from our actions,” said Robbins. He also said “the impacts from VAD properties are minimal.”
During the Feb. 25 public meeting, Robbins explained how N.C. 221’s expansion into a four-lane road would impact farmland, and explained why the road will feature the “super street” design to mitigate left-hand turns, along with the project’s schedule.
“The overwhelming sense is that people want the project,” said Robbins after the meeting.
According to Bare, one of the questions for Robbins during the Feb. 25 meeting was how much VAD property will by affected by the N.C. 221 expansion project.
“They had only two property owners and one and a half acres in VAD that will be affected by the roadway,” said Bare. “We had to ask, are you sure you have all of the recognized properties?”
Under the questioning, representatives from the N.C. DOT acknowledged additional properties totaling three acres that will be affected by the roadway.
“We were impacting about one and a half acres, those impacts require the ag board to request a meeting. At best, we were catching little slivers of property,” said Robbins.
Robbins also told advisory board the N.C. DOT had considered other paths for N.C. 221 to follow, but those alternatives would ultimately affect more farmland than the current route.
Bare said the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board had several other questions about the financial impact of the 221 project; whether the DOT’s financial analysis shows the financial impact of the project in general, or revealed the project’s financial impact on local property owners.
“We asked them to define the financial impact they were looking at,” said Bare. According to her, the N.C. DOT didn’t give a specific answer to that question, and said there would be further discussion.
After her presentation to the commissioners about N.C. 221 concluded, Bare took the floor again during the public comment portion of the meeting to discuss the importance of protecting farmland.
“One of five jobs in North Carolina are connected to the agriculture business,” said Bare during the meeting. “I want to encourage you all (commissioners) to educate our legislature about how important agriculture is.”
According to Bare, one farmer currently feeds up to 300 people single-handedly, and Bare said farmers will continue to increase their food production in the future.
“Farmers are land-rich but cash-poor. Legislators need to tax income and not land or net worth,” said Bare.