Fort Drum has grown tremendously over the last decade. There are more soldiers working – and training – on its grounds. Fort Drum planners have been concerned new development just outside the base may come into conflict with that training mission. The base is paying property owners to keep their land undeveloped. A family dairy farm in Rutland, just south of Fort Drum, has struck the largest deal yet.
It’s a gorgeous spring day on the Murray family farm. The sides of a long white barn filled with dairy cows are open to let in the fresh air. Inside, the cows are munching on an early lunch. Lynn Murray is the owner of Murcrest farms.
“This group was milked quite a while ago so they’ve already eaten so the next thing they do is lay down. So as you can see they are all just hanging out,” Murray said.
Murray loves his farm. His son and daughter in law also work in the business. And he’s hoping to pass it on to his grandchildren. Murray says his grandfather bought this land in the late 1940s. Beyond the barn are rolling hills and tilled fields.
“Right now we are just waiting to green up. Finally all the snow is gone. It’s probably the least pretty then it is any other time of year,” Murray said.
Murray points to a row of trees. On the other side of those trees is the beginning of Fort Drum.
“We can hear them when they are bombing. And they run helicopter flights around here. We’ve seen the drones fly. Its all pretty interesting. I’m thinking all about that next acre of corn and they are up there trying to figure out how to prevent the next terrorist,” said Murray.
A few years ago, a wind company was interested in this land. So were housing developers. And that worries Fort Drum officials. They don’t want that kind of development to get too close to their training – the bombing and helicopter flights Murray hears when he’s planting his corn.
So Fort Drum has a program called the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program or ACUB. It basically pays farmers to make sure their land remains farmland, and doesn’t become a wind farm or a subdivision.
Linda Garrett, the director of the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, runs the program. She says it’s a win-win for Fort Drum and the surrounding farms.
“The whole purpose of the ACUB program is to protect the training ability of Fort Drum, ” Garrett said. “To give the farmers in this area an alternative income source … and protect the farming in his area.”
Murray says he was interested in the Fort Drum buffer program right away.
“Because we don’t really want to develop the property anyway. What we want to do is farm. And by selling the development rights it just ensure that that happens here,” Murray said.
And for Murray it’s a big payout. He’s getting nearly $2 million to protect 2,000 acres of his farmland. He says that money will help keep the farm going.
“Forever for me in the dairy business is 15 or 20 years if I’m lucky and healthy but forever for my son and daughter in law is obviously 30 or 40 years and for their kids its 50 or 60 years so we have to look at it with that point of view. Yeah it’s a lot of money right now today but this is forever,” Murray said.
Murcrest is the twenty-first farm to agree to use its land as a buffer between Fort Drum and its surrounding communities. Garrett says the land trust is looking to add new properties to the program along Route 11 between LeRay and St. Lawrence County. They recently sent letters to about 100 homes. New York state has allocated another $2 million for this program in the state budget.