Community discusses local opportunities at Conservation Forum

A crowd of 75 interested and influential people participated in the PW Conservation Alliance May 17 Conservation Forum, held at the McCoart Government Center.

In addition to Gerry Connolly, 11th District Representative in the US Congress, and Supervisor May, Occoquan District Supervisor, three state officials spoke at the Forum: Robert Davenport, Virginia Land Conservation Foundation; Bob Lee, Virginia Outdoor Foundation; and Sara Richardson, Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation.

Also in attendance were State Senator George Barker and Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta, plus a number of county officials, conservation advocates, landowners, local developers, and interested citizens.

Two quotes stood out at the start…

“Metrics are essential for guiding land use decisions,” stated by Rep. Gerry Connolly, as he highlighted how specific goals for tree canopy coverage and parkland acquisition in the Comprehensive Plan has spurred Fairfax County to protect its environmental assets.

“It’s like drinking the water in your bathtub,” is how Supervisor Mike May described the need to manage stormwater and wastewater discharges flowing into the Occoquan Reservoir, a primary source of drinking water in Northern Virginia.

Discussion focused on how state tax credits, local land use planning, and creative partnerships can help conserve streams, forests, wildlife habitat, and other “green infrastructure” assets while population growth and suburbanization continue in Prince William County.

Kim Hosen, Executive Director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, started the session by describing how the preservation of Merrimac Farm has been the most notable conservation success in Prince William.  In 2008, this 302-acre site was acquired through a partnership between Marine Corps Base Quantico, the Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries, and the Conservation Alliance.

Supervisor May acknowledged the high level of citizen interest in conservation, especially preservation of trees and trail corridors.  He highlighted the draft revision of the Environmental Chapter in the Comprehensive Plan, which calls for more environmental information early in the development process, and recognized two conservation priorities in the Occoquan District, the American Legion and Mason’s Ridge properties.

Robert Davenport emphasized the need for clarity in planning processes, so everyone understands which areas are slated for development and which are prioritized for preservation. He noted that Virginia is losing 120 farms annually, and will lose 1 million acres of forestland in the next 20 years.

He explained that the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) has two major programs for conservation – providing grants to acquire property rights and fee-simple purchases, and establishing criteria for the land conservation tax credit program.  Only 3% of the VLCF grant funds have been spent in Prince William County (all for Merrimac Farm).

Rep. Gerry Connolly drew on the environmental heritage of Teddy Roosevelt, emphasizing that conservation is a bipartisan issue important to all Americans. He contrasted the continuing problems controlling stormwater runoff to successes in reducing pollution from agriculture and wastewater facilities to the Chesapeake Bay.

Sarah Richardson noted the economic value of open space for tourism, which employs 10% of Virginians.   She discussed Virginia’s “three legged stool” for land preservation: grants for land  acquisition, purchase of development rights (PDR’s), and conservation easements.

The state provides matching grants for jurisdictions with active PDR programs, supporting local efforts to conserve farmland and environmental resources.  Private conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements that protect the conservation values of a property in perpetuity.  Virginia has one of the best private land conservation tax incentives in the Nation.

Sara noted that 80% of the acreage permanently preserved in Virginia is achieved through private conservation easements, and 80% of those easements are held by the Virginia Outdoor Foundation.  When easements reduce a locality’s total land value, the state provides some compensation by adjusting the “composite index,” which increases state funding levels for schools.

Bob Lee explained that the Virginia Outdoors Foundation is a state entity, created by the General Assembly and with a board appointed by the governor, intended to preserve and steward Virginia’s natural and cultural heritage. The VOF is authorized to hold any and all interests in natural and heritage lands – particularly conservation easements,

Most of the forum discussion came in the extensive question and answer period. Click here to read the highlights

1 comment so far

  1. khosen on

    Check out Gary Friedman’s letter to the editor on the Conservation Forum – The Environment is Non-Partisan – published in the News & Messenger here.

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