LOWELL | Local farm owners concerned over possible annexation and the restrictions it could bring are getting a chance to solve issues before they become problems for them.
Lowell Town Councilman Edgar Corns, R-5th, chairs the agricultural advisory committee that has been formed to give farmers a voice in such matters.
A retired farmer who farmed for 38 years, Corns said he's well acquainted with potential pitfalls when farm ground is annexed.
"There were a lot of fears. ... We're stepping off in the right direction, I think. The next meeting, I'll tell them how they need to protect themselves. We've got to get deeper into it," Corns said of the initial committee meeting and what is to come.
"I've been saying all along we need to talk with the farmers," Corns said, but credited Council President Phillip Kuiper, D-4th, with the idea of reaching out with an advisory committee.
Those on the committee own farmland within areas discussed for annexation. They are Dan Harper, David Echterling, Tom and Randy Wietbrock, Phyllis Wietbrock, Carl L. Carlsson, Carl J. Carlsson, Dale Midkiff, Martin Krol, and Ron Hoffman, all of rural Lowell. Committee members James Van Drunen and Phil Rietveld are from Illinois, but own land locally.
Kuiper said establishing the committee keeps communication open and doesn't allow concerns to fester. Instead, he said he hopes the town can work with farmland owners to maintain a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.
A number of years ago, state legislators approved special legislation specific to Lowell and Cedar Lake that allows for "friendly annexation." That means land can be annexed, but not be taxed at the municipal rate until the land is developed.
Corns said Tom and Randy Wietbrock approached the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board when Spring Run subdivision was going in at Lowell's east end. They wanted their farm field tile protected.
Outside the district board's jurisdiction, he said the town should have provided that protection during the subdivision's planning process.
"Michigan has what they call the Right to Farm Law," Corns said. It covers such things as tile rights, dust, noise and hours of operation. Parts of that should be implemented in Lowell, he believes.
Corns said no second meeting date has been set.