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MARION, MA-As more and more cranberry growers in this area realize they need to sell off some of their land for their financial survival, the standard route–despite a state law that provides land trusts with first rights of refusal–has been to sell to developers. But in this town, a new path is being forged as two cranberry growers with land here have chosen to sell to the town and to a trust, with restrictions remaining on the rest of the property.

The Eagle Holt Co. and Tweedy & Barnes Co. are selling nearly 100 acres of land here to the town of Marion. The locally based Sippican Lands Trust will buy another 10-acre river lot while the Trust and the state will hold conservation restrictions on the remaining 160 acres. These restrictions will prevent development on the property, but will allow cranberry operations.

Mark Rasmussen, executive director of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, did not return calls by presstime but he is quoted as saying that this deal demonstrates that cranberry growers do not have to sell to developers or to develop the land to make a profitable deal. The Coalition helped arrange the deal. Unconfirmed reports place the value of the deal at $1.6 million.

A state law–Chapter 61A– provides owners of agricultural land with a tax break to encourage farming. But when those owners want the land to revert to another use, they must give the municipality–or whomever it appoints, such a land trust–the right of first refusal on that property. The problem for land trusts has been that the offer made must be met within a specific time frame. Most towns or land trusts don’t have the time to come up with the money for the deal in time. In this case, the Trust contacted the cranberry growers first and, with the Coalition, hammered out the deal that was favorable to both parties.

Recently in Wareham, the town had to pass on exercising its right of first refusal to purchase two parcels of cranberry land under Chapter 61A. The town did not have the funds available at that time.

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