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WRP letter still under review

By Eason Franklin
The Lowndes Signal

A letter the Lowndes County Commission sent to the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)  concerning wetlands is being now being questioned by some county landowners.

Ronnie Holiday appeared before the Lowndes County Commission during its regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 9 to represent local landowners and respond to reports that the NRCS is looking to change its policy concerning the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP).

“Because of your letter, it raised a lot of concerns at the state level and caused dramatic changes in the county and state,” said Holiday.

The Lowndes County Commission sent the letter to the NRCS asking for a re-evaluation of land considered to be wetlands during May of this year.

The Commission has voiced concern that some of the land that previously qualified for the project could be used for additional economic development in Lowndes County.

“The wetlands now exempt under the revised policy would not affect the county as whole, because it is swamp land,” said Commissioner Robert Harris “Any land beyond the true definition of wetlands would affect the county, because it is land that could not be used by the county.”

Nearly $21 million was spent on the program in Lowndes County in 2009 and because of the letter from the Commission, funding would be drastically cut for the county and state, according to Holiday.

In 2009 about 2,500 acres of land were applied for through the WRP project and the 2010 projection would only account for 500-800 acres; $10 million or less in funding.

“My concern is for those who are participating [in the program],” said Holiday. “I would like for those who have land and can participate, do participate.”

Commissioner Marzett Thomas stated that “a revised letter is still under review for discussion among the Commissioners.”

“The NRCS has not responded to our initial letter,” said Thomas. “We would like for the NRCS to help keep up their direct communications with the commission regarding our initial concerns about the wetland project.”

Holiday stated during the meeting that he expected any organization hearing concerns from public officials, such as the County Commission, would be in constant contact regarding those concerns.

County Commissioners also expressed concern during the meeting that if a revision is submitted and is accepted by the NRCS, it would lessen the amount of lands available for potential economic development.

“Everything entailing economic develop works hand-in-hand,” said Harris. “If there is no workforce, population, or public access to handle the jobs needed for development, most companies, or industries, won’t come to Lowndes County and build due to lack of potential workers from the population.”