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Virginia Conservation Efforts Face Calls For Reform

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Conservation efforts have preserved areas like Grayson Highlands, but some charge that new efforts are hampered by a disorderly process.
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Conservation efforts have preserved areas like Grayson Highlands, but some charge that new efforts are hampered by a disorderly process.

About 15 percent of Virginia's total acreage has been permanently protected from future development, mainly due to the Land Preservation Tax Credit. Even so, members of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission are looking for more effective ways to conserve Virginia land.

Virginia's preservation tax credits provide 40 percent of the land's fair market value in exchange for the property-owner's agreement to terminate development rights. That's capped at $100 million annually for everyone.

"Credits are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, not according to the priority of the land that's being conserved or to its conservation benefits," says JLARC project leader Jamie Bitz. He says that approach limits both public access and funds for other priorities.

Delegate Bobby Orrock suggested keeping the cap, but reallocating a portion to grants.

"Saying we've got two separate pots, whether a 60-40 split, 30-70, however you want to look at it, but the 60-70 percent of this pot of money will go to priority lands."

Other funding options include a state park fee surcharge and increasing recordation or grantors taxes.

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