Kaine Aims to Conserve 400,000 Acres

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine laid out his environmental priorities in a speech delivered yesterday to the Environment Virginia Symposium in Lexington. The Virginian-Pilot has the story here.

A top goal is to protect 400,000 acres of land from development over the next four years. As reporter Scott Harper notes:

That would double the amount of property the state has set aside since 1968 and would push Virginia beyond its land-conservation commitments under the Chesapeake Bay cleanup accords, signed in 2000.

The state needs to protect an additional 360,000 acres by 2010 to keep its promise. Bay cleanup partners Maryland and Pennsylvania already have achieved their conservation goals.

To achieve the 400,000-acre goal, Kaine plans on a mixture of tax incentives for property owners and outright purchase of land. Sounds like that will put him on a collision course with his budgetary allies in the state Senate who have been striving to cap tax credits for conservation easements.


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7 responses to “Kaine Aims to Conserve 400,000 Acres”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Why in the world would the Senate want to cap conservation easements?

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    400,000 acres is 1.6% of the land area of the state. So one way to look at this is as a permanent tax increase of 1.6%. Like other tax increases we can only hope that the money is spent well.

    So, if half of 400,000 acres is developed in such a way that it generates $2500 a year in tax revenue that would be a half billion a year. If our tax rate is 9.5 % of the economy that would mean this is going to take 5.263 billion out of the economy.

    Let’s guess that the state can conserve this land at a cost of $1000 per acre. It is going to cost the state 400 million. In order to raise 400 million we are goig to have to set aside the states share of 4.211 billion in economic activity.

    So we are going to dedicate the reurn on 4.2 billion of effort in order to take 5.26 billion per year out of the economy permanently.

    I’m not suggesting that this isn’t necessary or worthwhile: I just hope someone is considering what it means.

    Maybe it is not as bad as I have protrayed. There could be substantial income derived from 400,000 acres of conservation land. After all, we have golf course now that are dedicated as conservation land, and there is forestry, hunting etc. And, taking that much land off the market is bound to make the remaining areas more valuable, eventually.

    Where will we preserve this land? Will it be in the areas that are already under the most stress, or will we “preserve” it in areas that have little economic activity anyway?

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim: Thanks. I try to stay up with the blog when I am on the Left Coast – which is way too much time these days. But, I have free will to stay with my day job or not. Or, am I caught in a dysfunctional living pattern (Just kidding)?

    I guess the Senators covet the tax revenue too much to put more land in conservation easements. Is there another reason?

  4. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Even with the $600,000 credit cap as proposed by the Senate, there is plenty of tax incentive to make a donation. With no cap and unlimited tax credits it’s not really a donation, is it? Just another form of consideration for a fair market sale. (And one that is hard to track.) I reverse the question: why would the House want to offer such a generous tax break to the wealthiest Virginians?

    I am a little surprised that no one on this blog is suggesting that we take a look at land use settlement patterns before we grant these tax breaks, to make sure we aren’t conserving where we should develop, and forcing development in the wrong places. There go those pesky market forces getting in the way of The Common Good As Decided By State Planners.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I am a little surprised that no one on this blog is suggesting that we take a look at land use settlement patterns before we grant these tax breaks, to make sure we aren’t conserving where we should develop, and forcing development in the wrong places.

    I have noted previously that easements are being used preferentially to create greanbelts around existing communities. This has the effect of codifying permanently EMR’s concept of the clear edge, but it seems to me that it also puts permanently out of play the very land that you might want most to develop, some day.

    Or, as I commented above, Where will we preserve this land? Will it be in the areas that are already under the most stress, or will we “preserve” it in areas that have little economic activity anyway?

    Recently PW completed a study of the citizens wishes on open space. Open space is classified as active, meaning playground, ballfields, etc; passive, meaning hiking and biking trails, etc; and conservation land. The result of the study was that citizens have called for more open space near where they live, and more open space that is connected, as opposed to pocket parks.

    But, if the open space is connected it is likely to lead to more disconnectedness in the developed areas because the open space will become boundaries. At the same time, more open space where we live will lead to lower overall density, unless the built up areas compensate with accordingly higher densities.

    Then there is the question of whether we really have the right to create permanent land use decisions for all eternity by using non-governmental governing bodies to prevent future democratic changes.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Here is information attributed to Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council , in our Road to Ruin story on the topic:

    “In order for the tax credits to take effect, the land in question must have some demonstrable value that must be protected, such as protection of watersheds, farm soils, vistas, endangered plants or animals, or property with an historical value such as a Civil War battlefield. The easements must fit into a local comprehensive plan, Miller notes.”

    In theory, tax credits for conservation easements are not handed out willy nilly. They fit into local comprehensive plans. Whether that applies in practice, I don’t know. I would be willing to wager that actual practice varies from locality to locality.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    That is a pretty comprehensive list of values to be protected. It kind of reminds me of the definintion of hazardous waste: basically if it is either basic, acidic, or flammable, then it is hazardous waste.

    Pretty much covers anything, in other words. I’d be willing to wager that if you proposed to voluntarily give up and easement, then one of the thousands of land steward groups out there would accept it.

    I can’t imagine an easement being turned down because it doesn’t fit the comprehensive plan. In fact, I know of one case where something like 260 homes were taken out of the comprehensive plan bay an easement, utterly without comment, and without any amendment to the plan to put those homes back, someplace else.

    If Miller knows of one, I’d like to hear about it.

    As far as the tax credits are concerned, once you have an easement holder (and you could probably make your own, through a blind trust) the only thing the tax man is going to look at is your before and after assessments.

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