Act 44 of 2011, signed into law by Governor Corbett on July 7, amends the Agricultural Area Security Law to repeal the provision allowing for the extinguishment of agricultural conservation easements created pursuant to the Agricultural Area Security Law after 25 years. Repeal of this provision has been a long-standing objective of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.
The Agricultural Area Security Law stated that:
An agricultural conservation easement shall be subject to the following terms, conditions, restrictions and limitations:
(3) … if the land subject to the agricultural conservation easement is no longer viable [emphasis added] agricultural land, the Commonwealth, subject to the approval of the State board, and the county, subject to the approval of the county board, may sell, convey, extinguish, lease, encumber or restrict an agricultural conservation easement to the current owner of record of the farmland subject to the easement after the expiration of 25 years from the date of purchase of the easement ….
The Law’s definition of viable is complicated and problematic, creating a great deal of uncertainty and making this provision potentially harmful to conservation. The provision is repealed, effective 60 days after July 7.
Whether the repeal is applicable to agricultural conservation easements established prior to the repeal is uncertain. Thus, while the potential problems presented by the 25-year provision have been eliminated for new easements, it is unknown whether older agricultural conservation easements that reach the 25-year mark can be extinguished under the now repealed 25-year provision. The grant of conservation easement by the farmer is explicitly stated to be in perpetuity. But does the now repealed provision in the enabling act have any present bearing on the easement? The answer is not clear. The state’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program was established in 1988, making 2013 the earliest that a challenge to an easement could arise.
Maryland repealed its 25-year extinguishment clause in 2004. Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program was modeled after Maryland’s.
(Act 44 of 2011 also creates a definition of “contiguous” that includes lands separated by railroads and allows lands subject to agricultural conservation easements to be subject to underground mining of non-coal minerals.)
View/download the Agricultural Area Security Law, the Act of June 30, 1981 (P.L. 128, No. 43)