Farm Bureau sues Fresno County over farmland conversion
» October 31, 2011 «
Lawsuit says solar power projects should avoid prime farmland
In an action aimed at conserving prime farmland and protecting the integrity of California's main farmland-conservation program, the California Farm Bureau Federation filed a lawsuit today that charges the Fresno County Board of Supervisors with overstepping its authority when it authorized construction of a utility-scale solar power project on prime farmland.
Earlier this month, county supervisors voted to cancel a Williamson Act farmland-conservation contract on 90 acres of prime Class I soil, to allow the parcel to be developed for a large solar power plant. Farm Bureau said the Williamson Act requires that a proposed contract cancellation meet rigorous findings. For example, to find that a cancellation is in the public interest, the benefits of the proposed project must substantially outweigh the objectives of the farmland-protection program, and there cannot be other, unprotected land available for the same use.
In its lawsuit, Farm Bureau said Fresno County supervisors "have completely and repeatedly ignored the unanimous recommendations and advice" from state agencies, local advisory committees and its own staff, that the request for cancellation did not meet the requirements and that the Williamson Act contract should not be cancelled.
Williamson Act contracts include an agreement from landowners to maintain their property in agricultural use for 10 years. In return, landowners receive a property tax assessment based on the agricultural value of the property rather than on its development value.
California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said the organization filed suit to assure that large-scale solar power facilities are located in appropriate places.
"Farmers recognize the potential of solar power," Wenger said, "and California farmers lead the nation in the installation of on-farm solar power generators. But pressure to build utility-scale solar plants has touched off a land rush that threatens thousands of acres of prime farmland. There are millions of acres of marginal land in California. That's where these power plants should go, so we can conserve prime farmland to grow the crops that sustain our state and nation."
The suit, filed in Fresno County Superior Court, aims to halt cancellation of the Williamson Act contract and to require the county to comply with the act in any further cancellation requests.
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of approximately 76,500 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 6.3 million Farm Bureau members.
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