CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month: Brenda Mead, Director of Valley Conservation Council
Brenda Mead comes to the Valley Conservation Council with lots of useful experience, wisdom and energy to burn.
She’s on a mission to get younger people into leadership roles…something all of us associated with nonprofits need to keep in steady view. Two new hires lately fit the bill: one in marketing, another in land trust issues.
Valley Conservation Council is a land trust. They work to preserve clean streams and farmland and the biodiversity they bring with them. With those come the bucolic viewscapes typical of the Shenandoah Valley. They do that by acquiring conservation easements from those who love the land enough to place acreage into legally binding status. In turn, VCC has a perpetual obligation to manage the conservation values of the land or the riparian buffers of streams, to protect soil and water and all the intrinsic values those entail. Often the land is co-held with state soil and water conservation districts. They do have a few “whole farm” easements, but many more riparian easements with 50ft. buffers along a stream through the land. A familiar easement in Harrisonburg is the riparian buffer along Black’s Run in Purcell Park. With the help of partners, the stream has been restored to natural curves that handle the occasional flooding better, and heavily planted with native streamside trees and shrubs. CAAV helped several years ago in straightening young trees knocked over soon after they were planted by the force of flood water and debris it carried.
It’s not a simple operation. It requires financial reserves sufficient for legal defense in case of a challenge, and also continuity of the trust, even if VCC should hit hard times and go out of existence. Challenges most often occur when the original donors are deceased, and an heir (or purchaser) is not in sympathy with the intention. Subdivision of the property or addition of more impervious surfaces affecting streams add major challenges requiring negotiation.
Responsible management requires regular, usually annual, monitoring visits. Occasionally a new owner has not read the paper work, and doesn’t know about the requirements—and may object vigorously, requiring delicate handling.
With the gift of the easement comes a tax advantage. If a parcel is worth $100,000 without an easement, and after acquiring one is worth $75,000, there is a $25,000 difference which is an allowed charitable deduction. At the state level, tax preferences also grant tax credits, and allows the sale or transfer of those credits, but there are caps on both amounts and timing of awards. One additional advantage comes with selling development easement rights to a government entity, such as a county. When the county takes ownership, the easement becomes permanent.
With Dominion’s eagerness to traverse easements with new pipelines have come very attractive offers to the owners. Dominion is offering a land trade to purchase land elsewhere in exchange for allowing a pipeline route. In Highland Co., of eight easements, the owners of six have accepted Dominion’s offer, although the county does not agree that the deal is any advantage to the community. There will be new jobs, but only short-term for installation, and most of those jobs will be filled by people from elsewhere experienced in pipeline work. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation with a similar mission to the VCC is fighting back; VCC also plans to be around to do their work, regardless of the challenges.
Brenda says VCC is a 501c-3 nonprofit and welcomes donations. They also welcome partnerships in the work of fulfilling their responsibilities to land and water. Currently they have active partnerships with the Friends of Middle River, Friends of the North Fork, Shenandoah Valley Pure Water Forum, and the Battlefield Foundation. You can also be added to their E-news list, if you wish. Sign up!
– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, May 2017
Each month, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.