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A New Method for Acquiring Conservation Easements in the Avon Hills Using the Multi-faceted Approach for Prioritizing Land Easements (MAPLE) Method Thomas Kroll Drafted 3 March 2011 The basic concept of optimizing an easement’s environmental benefits with the easement’s cost: 1) Private land that is undeveloped provides many environmental benefits to society. 2) Landowners have the right to implement many (but not all) activities on their land. 3) Conservation easements are a useful tool to assure perpetual open space, wildlife habitat, clean water, and future forest and agricultural products, and conservation-designed development. 4) Society benefits when easements protect these qualities in perpetuity and so there is a value for the public to pay an individual landowner to preserve desirable qualities. 5) Land parcels have a mix of benefits and a mix of quality of those benefits. Better quality benefits are worth more. 6) Financial resources are always limited and need to be prioritized. 7) Optimizing society’s benefits requires balancing the environmental benefits of an easement with the costs. A new method of optimizing and prioritizing applications: 1) “Environmental Benefits” factors have been established by a group of environmental experts. All such ratings are based in research findings with an element of professional judgment. We agree that the following include key factors for evaluating environmental and social benefits. a. Larger parcels are better than smaller ones. (And parcels with the smallest ratio of perimeter to area are better. E.g. Squares are better than skinny rectangles even if both have the same area.) b. Parcels with identified special ecological features or habitat for special species are better. c. Parcels with identified special historical, cultural, or scenic features are better. d. Parcels that directly protect water quality and aquatic life are better. (Such as lakeshore, wellheads, other riparian areas, and upland watersheds of those areas.) e. Parcels that abut other protected areas or public lands are better because they increase the overall protected area. f. Parcels that are being managed for natural resources are better. g. Parcels that allow public access are better. h. Parcels that extinguish building rights are better. i. There is a minimum threshold of environmental benefits that must be met for the easement to be of value. j. Environmental benefits are easier to compare on similar land types, so avoiding comparisons between different landscapes is better. 2) The societal costs involved in purchasing an easement also have measurable factors. a. Lower cost per acre is better as more acres can be purchased. b. Payments for easements should not be made to landowners who are otherwise required to grant an easement due to zoning or other regulations. (e.g. Land developers whose plat requires granting an easement.) c. The value of an easement can be determined by an appraisal. But landowners may have much different expectations regarding how much they would need for selling an easement and it could be lower than the appraised value in many cases. d. No public payment should exceed the appraised value of the benefits the landowner is giving up. e. Allowing each landowner to determine the amount they want for an easement (Not to exceed the appraised value or a maximum established for a township) is a fair and non- bureaucratic way to set the price. It also reduces the potential for accusations of partisanship in awarding bids. f. Competitive bidding assures the most efficient use of limited funds. (Land values change geographically for the same type of land, and competitive bidding assures that prices are based on local land values.) 3) Balancing Environmental Benefits and Societal Costs: a. Dividing the “Environmental Benefit Points” for a proposed easement parcel by the landowners bid (dollars/acre) yields a ratio that can be used to compare a variety of parcels. We call that ratio the Conservation Value Rating. A higher number means than benefits are better in comparison to the costs. i. Example. A parcel with 5,000 Environmental Benefit Points and a bid cost of $1,000 per acre has a Conservation Value Rating of 5. (5000/1000) A parcel with 8,000 Environmental Benefit Points and a bid cost of $2,000 per acre has a Conservation Value Rating of 4. (8000/2000) For an extreme example, a landowner whose land had only 1,000 Environmental Benefit Points could bid $ 2 per acre which would yield a Conservation Value rating of 500 (1000/2), but only a few dollars would be spent to purchase that easement. ii. In the above case, the landowner with the highest ratio would be granted funds first at the price they bid. If any funds remained, the bid with the next lowest Conservation Value Ratio would be accepted and so on until all the funds were expended. A New Method for Acquiring Conservation Easements in the Avon Hills Using the Multi-faceted Approach for Prioritizing Land Easements (MAPLE) Some procedures for persons conducting & for applicants participating in a round of funding: 1) A named funding source(s) will determine an approximate amount of funding available for a round of bidding and will announce a geographical area for the bidding and a deadline for applications. 2) The potential easement holder(s) must be named. 3) The easement holder will assure that sufficient public notice is given appropriate to the funding source, funding amount, and target area. 4) All applications must be received in sealed envelopes by the established deadline. 5) Information in bids which are accepted will be considered public information as public funds are being used. Information submitted by any bidder may be made public if the names are removed. 6) A landowner may submit only one application per round of bidding. 7) Landowners who are or are not adjacent may submit their bids on a single application as a group, providing they all agree to accept their combined ecological score and provided they all agree to the same bid rate per acre. If accepted as a group, each landowner will receive an individual easement, but all landowners must sign their easements for any to be accepted. 8) A landowner is not legally committed to the easement until they agree and sign the final easement documents. They may withdraw at any time prior to signing. The penalty for landowners whose bids are accepted and then choose to withdraw is that they may not participate in a future round of bidding from the named funding source for 18 months. THIS PENALTY PROVISION WILL NOT APPLY TO THE FIRST ROUND OF FUNDING IN ORDER TO GAIN INFORMATION FOR FUTURE FUNDING ROUNDS. 9) The Conservation Value Rating is determined by dividing the Environmental Benefits Points by the dollars /acre to be paid by the named funding source. Other parties may offer additional funding to specific landowners without affecting that landowner’s Conservation Value Rating. 10) Landowner bids which meet the minimum threshold of Environmental Benefits will be prioritized based on the highest Conservation Value Ratio. 11) After the first bid is funded, the bid with the next highest Conservation Value Ratio will be accepted and so on until the available funds are expended. 12) If a landowner is next in line for funding, but not enough funding remains to fulfill their bid the landowner may choose to: 1) Withdraw their bid and be allowed to bid without penalty in the next round. 2) Lower their bid to use all the remaining funds while keeping all the acres they originally bid for the easement. 13) To have a bid accepted, a landowner must be able to convince the easement holder that they can legally sign an easement within the time constraints set by the easement holder and/or the funding source. This decision is at the sole discretion of the easement holder. Landowners who are rejected for this reason may apply at any future round of bidding. 14) If a landowner’s bid is higher than the appraised value of the easement, the land owner may choose to: 1) Withdraw their bid and be allowed to bid without penalty in the next round. 2) Lower their bid to maximum appraised value while keeping all the acres they originally bid for the easement. 15) To have a bid accepted, a landowner must be able to convince the easement holder that the value of their bid will not exceed the appraised value or that they will accept the appraised value as their maximum payment and will likely sign an easement. (Landowners who may approach the NTE value are advised to furnish an appraisal prepared at their cost to provide evidence for the easement holder.) This decision is at the sole discretion of the easement holder. Landowners who are rejected for this reason may apply at any future round of bidding. 16) The easement holder may withdraw from the easement negotiations at any time without penalty or recourse by the landowner. The easement holder and the landowner must be able to agree on all easement negotiations for the easement to be completed.
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