Connecticut and New York have announced new funding programs to protect local open spaces and farmland. Connecticut is making $5 million available for cities and counties to pay to keep certain land undeveloped for open spaces. In New York, $20 million is available for farmland projects throughout the state.
The Open Space and Watershed Land Grant Program in Connecticut, is administered by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). It was launched in 1998 and since that time almost $110 million in grants have been awarded. DEEP will use the new bond funds, along with at least $5 million it has received under the Community Investment Act (CIA) to award the 17th round of grants this year.
So far, DEEP received 30 applications for funding open space projects totaling more than 2,200 acres. It also received two applications for the Urban Green and Community Garden portion of the grant program. The open space grants provided under the program typically fund up to 65% of the fair market value – although in some circumstances the grant amount can be higher or lower – for the purchase of eligible open space properties by municipalities, local land trusts, and water companies. Lands purchased under the program must be preserved predominately in its natural state although it can be used for passive outdoor recreation such as hiking.
In New York, $20.5 million has been awarded to aid farmland protection efforts and help prevent viable agricultural land from being converted to non-agricultural use. Eligible entities, including municipalities, counties, soil and water conservation districts (SWCD) and not-for-profit conservation organizations/land trusts, can apply for individual grants under the Round 13 Farmland Protection Implementation Grants Request for Proposals (RFP).
The Department of Agriculture and Markets anticipates that an even greater number of proposals will be submitted this year because the grant has not been offered by New York State for several years. Additionally, revisions to State law have increased the State contribution to a maximum of 87.5 percent (up from 75 percent) and also expanded the number of entities now eligible to apply directly for these funds – adding land trusts and SWCDs
This RFP will enable eligible entities to help landowners protect at-risk farmland through the use of permanent conservation easements or incentive payment agreements. Although the vast majority of the funding will go to permanent easements, the incentive payment agreements are being offered for the first time under this program, and will allow eligible entities to make multi-year commitments to landowners, at least five but no more than ten. The eligible entities would then work with the landowners to seek other funding arrangements to effectively create a perpetual conservation easement on these lands. Also known as “lease of development rights,” this particular tool has been identified in municipal agricultural and farmland protection plans adopted across New York. Up to $2 million under the RFP will be available for this new type of project.