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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 14, 2015 at 3:51 pm •  Published: January 14, 2015
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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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FARMLAND PRESERVATION ABOUT AGRICULTURE, NOT GREEN SPACE

On farmland preservation, the federal government should take a lesson from Lancaster County.

Before a change in federal law, Lancaster County has allowed farmers to add a building to farmland preserved using federal funds, so long as that building took up no more than 6 percent of the preserved farm's acreage and would be used for agricultural production. An example of a permitted building is a grain-drying silo to be used for selling grain, at least half of which is produced on the farm.

The idea is to allow a farmer preserving his land the flexibility later to add a related agricultural business that makes productive use of the farm's crops, livestock or both.

Under the previous rule, any building proposed on a farm preserved with federal funds required approval by the county's Agricultural Preserve Board to make sure it was within the 6 percent limitation; its location on the farm was not restricted.

Farms preserved with county and state funds include no restrictions on the size or location of buildings, but added buildings are restricted to agricultural uses and a single additional residential structure. Preserved farms are visited by staff with the county board about every two years to be sure they are in compliance with their deed restrictions as preserved farms.

If it restricts agricultural buildings, the new federal rule likely would do more harm to the national program than to Lancaster County's preservation efforts. The share of federal funding here, after all, has been small.

What should worry fans of farmland preservation is its potential effect elsewhere: If other states adapt to meet the new federal rule, they might steer their programs toward preserving green space rather than productive farmland.

That would be a shame. And it's why either the federal government should be flexible in setting policy based on the new rule or Congress should rewrite it.

The goal of farmland preservation should not be purely aesthetic. Its goal should be, as it has been in Lancaster County, to support agriculture as a way of life. For that to be true, it must make economic sense and allow owners the flexibility to maintain their preserved farms as successful businesses into the future.

The Lancaster County program is a public-private partnership that leads the nation in acres preserved. Two key aspects of its successful strategy to preserve productive farms: favoring farms with soils that yield substantial crops, and paying for acreage near other preserved farms to maintain farming communities.

This latter consideration is based on the premise that the best neighbor a farmer can have is another farmer, to help in a pinch. And a farming neighbor is much less likely to complain about the odors and sounds a productive farm emits.

The flexibility of the Lancaster County program is no doubt part of what makes it the nation's leader in acres preserved. The federal government should take the hint.

— LNP.

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OUR MAIN CONCERN

The City Council's messy killing of the deal for UIL Holdings Corp. to buy the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works is a nasty gift that just keeps on giving.

This week, the Public Utilities Commission, the state agency charged with overseeing the state's utilities, including their safe operation, renewed its concerns about the city's aging cast-iron gas mains, and suggested that the $18 million payment that PGW makes to the city each year should be directed to gas-main replacement.

The PUC is concerned about the safety of the aging gas mains, one of the many issues addressed during the long and ultimately frustrating process of the purchase of the city-owned gas company.

Half of Philadelphia's 3,000 miles of gas mains are considered "high risk" — second only to New York. Eleven people have died in PGW gas-main explosions in the past 35 years.

PGW's current schedule for updating gas mains would see completion in 2103 — 88 years from now. Council claims that UIL hadn't agreed to rapid gas-main replacement, though UIL had made a point throughout the process that, as a private company, it would be in a better position to be able to finance an accelerated gas-main replacement schedule, with the goal of cutting the current schedule by half.

UIL also made gas-main replacement a point of a marketing campaign while Council was pretending to deliberate over the pending sale. After the city received UIL's bid, Council dragged its feet, commissioned a study that took months and, finally, without public hearing or frankly any good reason they killed the deal.

To add injury to stupidity, Council's reaction to PUC's recent concerns about gas mains defies belief: Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who heads the gas commission, which oversees PGW, said that the PUC was using gas-main safety as "a red herring," and said that the PUC, in airing its concerns, was trying to punish the city.

Calling safety a "red herring" strikes us as a totally irresponsible statement from the head of the city's gas commission.

The Nutter administration is not happy about the prospect of forgoing the $18 million payment that PGW is supposed to make to the city. No one in the city should be. Already, the city had to forgo this payment for seven years, since PGW was in such dire financial straits.

PGW has, of course, made great organizational and management strides in the past decade to move out of the disastrous mess it was once in. But even under the best of circumstances, it's still a struggling company with a huge debt. Its sale would have helped stabilize the company, helped bring down the city's pension obligation and gotten the city out of the business of utilities.

The PUC's safety concerns underscore just what a misstep Council made in killing the sale. Even if the UIL sale wasn't perfect, it was a sale that could have solved many problems. The utility's eroding and possibly dangerous infrastructure is one of them.

Preventing deadly gas explosions is the ultimate responsibility of PUC. Morally, if one happens, Council should have to answer for it.

— Philadelphia Daily News

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PRESERVE SUNDAY HUNTING BANS IN NEW JERSEY, PENNSYLVANIA

New Jersey and Pennsylvania have long traditions of hunting and trapping, and those activities today are greatly changed from their historical roots. Modern equipment is a far cry from 18th-century firearms and bows. Game populations and habitat have shrunk with the encroachment of suburbs and highways. Outfitting the hunter (and everyone else who takes to the outdoors) is serious business.

One hunting tradition is resistant to change, however. Both states have refused to end bans on Sunday hunting, a type of blue law that dates to the 19th century.

In Harrisburg, a Sunday hunting bill died in committee last year. A group called Hunters United for Sunday Hunting sued the state Game Commission, saying the Sunday ban violated hunters' First and Second Amendment rights. A federal judge dismissed the suit, saying there's no constitutional right to hunt, nor does a one-day-a-week ban violate anyone's right to bear arms or exercise religion.

New Jersey is revisiting the issue. Four bills — including measures to allow Sunday firearm hunting, expand beaver trapping, and allow 10-year-olds to get provisional hunting licenses without taking a safety course — were approved by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee Monday. The state already allows limited bow hunting on Sunday under a 2008 law.

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