An important provision of the Agricultural Districts Law is the mandate it places on state agencies, local governments, and public benefit corporations to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to farm operations within an agricultural district, for actions that involve either the acquisition of farmland or the advance of public funds for certain construction activities. Department staff regularly conduct detailed reviews of notice documents provided by project sponsors and recommend mitigation or remedial action where necessary. Such projects cannot proceed until the notice process is completed.
Notice of Intent Process
The majority of projects requiring a notice of intent process involve the construction of new water and sewer lines in county adopted, state certified agricultural districts. Section 305 of the Agricultural Districts Law requires local governments, before extending a water or sewer line that would serve non-farm structures within an agricultural district, to provide a notice of intent with the Division and the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board.
The corresponding local applicant must file a notice of intent at least 65 days prior to taking the action. Upon receipt of a notice of intent that has been determined by the Department to be complete, the Commissioner has 45 days to determine the effect the action would have on agricultural operations within the district.
If it is determined that the proposed action would have an unreasonably adverse effect, the Commissioner may issue an order delaying the action for an additional period of 60 days. During this time, the Commissioner may conduct a public hearing, upon providing public notice. On or before the expiration of the 60 days, the Commissioner must report his or her findings to the project sponsor, the public at large and any public entity having the power of review or approval of the action.
The Commissioner may propose that an alternative which minimizes or avoids adverse impacts be accepted. The applicant must provide a detailed evaluation and reasons if the proposed mitigation is rejected. At least 10 days prior to commencing the action, the applicant must certify to the Commissioner that adverse impacts will be minimized or avoided.
The Commissioner may request that the Attorney General institute an action to compel compliance with these requirements.
This notice requirement does not apply in the case of an emergency project that is immediately necessary for the protection of life or property.
In order to fulfill the statutory duty to minimize or avoid adverse impacts within an agricultural district, municipalities offer to adopt lateral restrictions which restrict hookups for non-farm structures to new and existing water and sewer lines that extend through an agricultural district. The Department has developed suggested language that municipalities may employ in the adoption of lateral restrictions. Additionally, the Department has created a sample application that can be used if the municipality includes the option for landowners to apply for hardship relief from lateral restrictions.
The Department has also developed construction standards that municipalities adopt to protect adjacent farmland based on the size of the project: under 8 inches and over 8 inches.
Acquisition of Farmland
If a local or state government entity, or a public benefit corporation, acquires an interest in land that exceeds more than one acre from an actively operated farm operation or more than 10 acres in total within an agricultural district, a Notice of Intent must be filed with the Department pursuant to Agriculture and Markets Law §305(4).
If the acquisition of the farmland is from a willing seller, the current landowner may complete a waiver form in lieu of a notice of intent filing. There are separate waivers for individuals and corporations.
Other Construction Projects Affecting Farmland
The Department is involved in reviewing various types of construction projects affecting farmland. Department staff work with project sponsors from the early planning stages of a construction project through final restoration to ensure that impacts to agricultural resources are minimized and/or properly mitigated. The Department has been involved in a wide range of construction projects including natural gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, natural gas well drilling, highway projects, wind farms, and water and sewer lines.
The Department is a statutory party to all Article VII gas pipeline and electric transmission line proceedings governed by the Public Service Commission. The Department also participates as a "Cooperating Agency" in all Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proceedings involving gas pipelines in New York that impact agricultural land. Department staff provide pre-application information to project sponsors on specific agricultural resource concerns in the project area. They also review gas and electric transmission applications for potential agricultural resource impacts. This involves reviewing proposed routing to determine if agricultural land will be crossed by the project and reviewing proposed construction plans to determine potential impacts to agricultural resources. Staff conduct on-site reviews during construction and restoration to assess the contractor’s level of compliance with stipulations and certificate conditions for affected agricultural land.
Similarly, the Department reviews other projects such as natural gas well drilling, highway construction, water and sewer line installations, and wind farm construction for potential impacts to agricultural resources. Staff provide pre-application information to project sponsors on specific agricultural resource concerns in the project area. Department staff also review project Environmental Impact Statements for potential agricultural resource impacts. This involves reviewing proposed siting to determine if the project will be located on agricultural land and reviewing proposed construction plans to determine potential impacts to agricultural resources. Staff conducts on-site reviews during construction and restoration to assess level of compliance with stipulations and permit conditions for construction involving agricultural land.