Friday, December 30, 2005

Easements

I have an article under review with a journal on the topic of easements, and it's something that I can spout off on for hours. Lucky you. I'll try to rein it in today, though. Today's Times-Union carries an interesting article that summarizes why they are such a useful tool for land protection.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation will pay $5.5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund for the easements, the first of three phases that will preserve 257,000 acres of International Paper Co. land from development and open it to public recreation. The remaining two phases are under contract and expected to close in 2006, DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said. The agreement is the state's largest conservation project.

The first phase -- 39,700 acres in Hamilton County and 1,750 acres in Franklin County -- includes 44 miles of snowmobile trails and nearly 190 miles of existing roads and trails that allow hiking and other non-motorized activity.

The public will also have immediate access to all water bodies on the tracts for fishing and canoeing, including Elm Lake, the Sacandaga River and Racquette River. As of May 1, 2.5 miles of shoreline on the Piercefield Flow will open for fishing, hiking, picnicking and camping at designated sites.

Stamford, Conn.-based International Paper stands to make $20 million to $25 million when conservation easements on all the land are sold. IP would continue logging, while the state would pay about one-third of its property-tax bill and enforce limits on public use.

The State only pays property taxes in certain areas (Tug Hill, Adks, Catskills), but the tax benefit to the owner exists whenever he/she transfers some of the ownership interest. Easements are a valuable tool for protecting land while still allowing a variety of uses. With this deal, IP raises some one-shot capital and gets a continuing tax break, while still retaining the rights to the timber on the property. Even with State oversight of the harvest practices, that is a good deal in my opinion. The problem with easements, from my perspective, arises in the non-tax-paying areas of the state, where transfering an easement removes land from the tax rolls (as transfer is typically to a non-profit which is tax-exempt). However, this isn't an insurmountable obstacle and conservation easements are an estate-planning and land-protection tool lawyers should be more schooled in understanding and using.

5 Comments:

Blogger jackbear said...

I agree, easements are a win win....it opens land for use to enjoy, and it gets the company a break, and the town doesn't lose any money (if its in the areas you noted.) And more places to fish for me!!!

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