Hurd farm easement on agenda

By Joe Adler

The Portsmouth Herald, January 5, 2004

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON — A plan to spend $3 million to protect 160 acres of open land around the town's last working dairy farm will be the subject of a public hearing in front of the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 12.

The hearing starts at 7 p.m. in the Selectmen's Meeting Room on Winnacunnet Road.

Hampton voters will be asked on the March 9 ballot to approve the purchase of a conservation easement around the Hurd Farm. The easement would restrict use of the land — owned by the Hurd family since the 1920s — to cattle grazing and public access to the Taylor River.

Ellen Goethel, of the Hampton Conservation Commission, said the easement would allow the farm to remain in operation by keeping real estate developers away.

"The pressure is there to develop, develop, develop, and it's hard to maintain a farm in this regulatory era," Goethel said. "We, as a town, need to keep as much open land as possible."

All five members of the Board of Selectmen support the plan.

Chairman Brian Warburton said the land adjacent to parts of both Towle Farm Road and Old Stage Road would disappear if a developer bought it at market price — appraised at $7 million.

"If that land were developed, you're talking about tons and tons of homes," Warburton said. "We have the opportunity to forgo that by buying the easement."

In addition to reserving area for the Hurds' cattle to graze and allow public access to boaters who launch onto Taylor River, the open land would also be used to protect the public's water supply, Goethel said.

"Much of the Seacoast's water supply comes from aquifer, which is groundwater that runs underneath the earth's surface," she said. "The more open space we have, the more we can renew aquifer and protect it from runoff from roads and structures."

Last year, voters turned down a bond request for $4 million that would have allowed the HCC to purchase similar easements, but it never specified what land would be protected.

It is believed that request failed because it would have left the commission with an open-ended mandate to protect whichever land it chose.

"We were told last year that by not having a specific property, that we were taking rights of the people away at Town Meeting," she said. "This year, we're truly hopeful it will pass. If we lose this opportunity, we won't get it again."

Goethel said the easement will not affect the farm buildings where cattle are housed nor the family's home on Old Stage Road.

The bond request for the Hurd Farm is one of 20 warrant articles put forth by the Board of Selectman, which will be debated Jan. 31 before the March 9 vote. The deliberative session will start at 8:30 a.m. at Winnacunnet High School.