Clarke County receives land preservation grant

The Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority has received a new grant that will help aid its farmland conservation efforts.

According to a news release from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has awarded a total of $1.5 million in grant money to five counties and the city of Virginia Beach.

Clarke County will be receiving $146,778 of these funds.

Alison Teetor, natural resources planner for the easement authority, said this is the fourth or fifth year in a row that they have received this funding.

“It’s a great opportunity because local government funding for conservation easement purchases is pretty limited,” Teetor said, adding, “This actually doubles our money because it’s a matching grant.”

The catch is that the grant is awarded to local entities that are a part of the state’s Purchase Development Rights program and can provide matching funds.

Yhe program is “designed to compensate landowners who voluntarily place … an easement on their property,” acording to the  Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website.

The program was created by the Virginia Farmland Preservation Task Force and, as of 2014, 22 county governments have established programs.

Teetor said that the authority matches grant funds through appropriations the authority receives from the county as well as private donations that it elicits through newsletters and digital media.

One advantage to this particular grant, Teetor said, is that they have the ability to decide what land to use the funds for.

“Most of the other grants are property-specific and are more competitive,” Teetor said, adding, “This has been a very secure, consistent funding source for us.”

Since its inception in 2002, the Clarke County Easement Authority has secured just under 6,000 acres of land for preservation. Teetor estimates that about a third of that land has been preserved through the use of grant money from the state.

“Typically, we get applications in from land owners interested in the program,” Teetor said.

Teetor said that the easement authority sees between 10 and 12 applications from landowners every year.

Although Teetor said it can get competitive if there is a high volume of applications, the authority “typically has enough money to go around.”

In 2014, the authority received seven applications and secured 400 acres of land for easements.

“The funding from the state really helps because, without that, we … would not be able to protect this much land,” Teetor explained.

Although the authority has no specific goal for acreage or number of development rights for this grant, Teetor noted that they would “like to use all of the money.”

At the same time, Teetor added, “it would be nice to get a large parcel that works to extinguish a lot of building rights.”

Teetor also said that the authority would simply like to protect land that falls under its criteria.

“What we look for is … to protect parcels that are either good farmland or preserve historic resources or natural resources,” Teetor said.

She said that these conservation efforts are also important for economy of Clarke County.

“Agriculture is still our primary economy,” Teetor stated.

Proving the funding to farmers to help prevent subdivision and selling of that land, Teetor said, “is a win-win for the landowner, the farmer and the county.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com