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Field set for Soil and Water board election

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

Now that filing for the Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor seats has ended, Lincoln County residents must wait until this fall to vote for their future district leaders. Candidates were eligible to file between June 9 and July 7.
Four candidates are in the running for the two open spots on the board this year. Lincolnton resident Becky Reavis was the first to announce her candidacy, filing on June 13. Incumbent Terry Turbyfill, of Stanley followed, filing on June 25. The final two candidates, Leonard Keever and Jason L. Moir, both Lincolnton residents, filed on July 2.
With the many departments that comprise the county’s government, some residents may not realize the duties and responsibilities of the Soil and Water Conservation District. A subdivision of state government, the Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District works to promote conservation of natural resources in Lincoln County.
“The soil and water conservation districts and their boards of supervisors began in the 1930s due to the Dust Bowl out west and the significant erosion,” Soil and Water Conservation District director Rick McSwain said.
According to McSwain, Lincoln County was originally part of the Lower Catawba District, which also included Gaston and Mecklenburg counties, and was organized in April of 1940. However, after Lincoln County became a single county district in 1964, it became necessary to create a five-member board, in which three board members are elected and two are appointed by the state division. Today, there are 96 local soil and water conservation district boundaries, which coincide with county borders, with the exception of the Albemarle Soil and Water Conservation District, which encompasses Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.
“The supervisors oversee our office, which consists of four employees and is divided into two categories,” McSwain said. “There’s the district director and program coordinator, and then the other two comprise the Natural Resources Division.”
As the Soil and Water Conservation District for the county, McSwain’s department is in charge of delivering state programs such as the Agriculture Cost Share Program, the Agricultural Water Resources Assistance Program, Community Conservation Assistance Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The department is also in charge of delivering federal Farm Bill conservation programs involving water quality practices, farmland protection, wet lands restoration and wildlife habitat enhancement as well as assisting communities in many areas of natural resource management, including but not limited to water use efficiency, flood control, stream restoration, open spaces and small-plot forestry management.
During McSwain’s 25 years as the county’s Soil and Water director, he has found most candidates to be at least in their 30s when they run.
“The candidates are usually farmers who know what we do and want to work with us,” he said.
Elected candidates are expected to serve one term, lasting four years. However, there is no limit on the number of times a candidate can run for re-election.
“A successful candidate is a person who is concerned about natural resources and trying to protect the farming community,” McSwain said. “They should have a concern for the water quality of Lincoln County and North Carolina, as well as a concern for the protection of open space and wildlife habitat.”
One of the many misconceptions McSwain has observed about the supervisor position is the financial component to the service.
“Some people think that it’s a paid position, and it’s not,” he said. “There is reimbursement for traveling expenses during our state-wide meeting in January, and there’s a traveling stipend for the meetings, but it’s ultimately a volunteer position.”
McSwain has also seen some candidates mistake the elected position as a stepping stone to advance in the political realm.
“It’s a nonpartisan position, but some people just want to get into politics,” he said. “They get caught up in the campaign trail and seeing their name on the ballot, but we really want people concerned about our natural resources and not the politics.”
For those who are interested in learning more about the services and history of the Soil and Water Conservation District or the responsibilities of the Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors, visit www.lincolncounty.org.

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