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The Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase program enablesstate, county and local governments to buy conservation easements,sometimes called development rights, from owners of farmland thatmeets certain criteria. Among the qualifying stipulations is a50-acre minimum, an assessment of the extent and type ofnon-agricultural uses nearby, and the existing control of erosionand sedimentation on the land.

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The objective is to slow the loss of prime farmland tonon-agricultural uses, including commercial real estatedevelopment. Farmers can receive proceeds from the sales in a lumpsum, in five-year installments, or on a long-term installment basisin order to pay down debt, expand farming operations and/or passfarms onto the next generation.

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This is the second year of grants from the $625-million fund,which was established and approved by voters in 2005. It will bedistributed within six years of the legislation. In the first yearof awards, $39.4 million was spent to preserve more than 14,800acres on 142 farms statewide.

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In addition to preserving farmland, Growing Greener II grantsare directed toward protecting watersheds, reclaiming abandonedmines, remediating industrial brownfields and investing in otherenvironmental initiatives. The projects are funded through thestate's departments of environmental protection, conservation andnatural resources, agriculture, and community and economicdevelopment along with input from the fish, boat and gamecommissions

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Projects funded from this year's awards that are unrelated tofarmland include the repair of stream banks, the creation ofrecreational trails and community parks, dam improvements and thedevelopment of wildlife habitat. One example is nearly $1.4 millionto eliminate dangerous cliffs at the former Kelly Estate mine inClinton County to help the restoration of a 130-acre meadow tosupport a habitat for elk and other wildlife.

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"The huge scope of these projects shows that the Growing GreenerII funds are truly being used to sustain Pennsylvania's environmentin a broad range of ways, like giving citizens a safe place foroutdoor recreation and allowing us to support Pennsylvania'sfarming heritage by preserving farmlands," Rendell says in astatement. Farm owners, potential brownfield developers, andcommunity organizations submit initial applications for funding tothe appropriate departments, such as agriculture, environmentalprotection and or community and economic development. Each of thedepartments then evaluates projects according to its owncriteria.

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