ALBANY – Spurred on by an annexation battle in his district, a Capital Region lawmaker has proposed a one-year moratorium on converting farmland into industrial sites through the annexation process. The bill proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara of Schenectady, also speaks to what agriculturalists say is the continuing loss of farmland in New York state. That pace may increase as some prime farm plots are eyed as potential solar or wind farms, needed to meet the state’s ambitious clean energy goals.
The measure, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jim Skoufis, Newburgh, would allow towns in rural counties with fewer than 55,000 people to impose a year-long moratorium on the annexation of farmland for industrial use. That would buy the municipalities time to develop an agricultural protection plan if they didn’t already have one.
The bill targets a particular proposal, in which the city of Johnstown, Montgomery County, would annex 260 acres of farmland from the neighboring town of Mohawk in Fulton County for an industrial park. Nearby residents are opposed to the idea and have started a petition drive against the plan.
Regardless of the outcome, the proposal comes as farmland continues to disappear in New York State.
“It is a concern for the Farm Bureau and other organizations,” said Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the state Farm Bureau. “Once you lose farmland it doesn’t come back,” he said.
“This is definitely a problem,” added Samantha Levy, the state policy manager at the American Farmland Trust, a group working to preserve farmland.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the equivalent of 500,000 acres of farmland have been lost between 1980 and 2012 in New York. That trend will likely continue with the need for more solar and wind farms.
“One thing that we’re seeing across New York state now is a lot of farmland being slated for solar and wind projects,” Levy added.
The conversion of farmland is especially rapid in the Hudson Valley, she noted.
Skoufis’ district is in the Hudson Valley. In that region, there have been contentious fights in his district over plans for new towns and housing developments. In some instances, the developments would serve ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities, and neighbors believe that would increase population density and drive up school taxes in their towns.