Green acres

Do open spaces fit ARPA use guidelines?

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 9/28/21

MONTICELLO, NY — The point of the presentation, representatives of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy (DHC) stressed, was just to introduce legislators to what they do.

But next year’s …

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Green acres

Do open spaces fit ARPA use guidelines?

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — The point of the presentation, representatives of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy (DHC) stressed, was just to introduce legislators to what they do.

But next year’s ARPA funding lurked in the background.

The DHC was asked, said Steven Schwartz, about using American Rescue Plan funds for its work and whether it would qualify.

“It’s well in line with conservation purposes,” he said. So the presentation, made to the Sullivan County executive committee on September 14, gave an overview not just on their mission, but on how public funding fits into that mission.

The DHC operates in both New York and Pennsylvania, in counties that border the Delaware River. It works with landowners, protecting land primarily through easements.

Conservation easements are binding legal agreements that restrict the use of the land in perpetuity, according to a factsheet by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. Land that has an easement can be sold or passed on to heirs, as long as the terms of the easement are followed.

“The conservancy protects the easement,” Schwartz said. “It monitors and manages it forever. ‘In perpetuity’ is a long time.”

Land for conservation easements is usually—though not always—donated.

Due diligence on the conservancy’s part is important. Environmental assessments need to be done. There are transaction costs and sometimes acquisition costs. “Landowners,” he said, “may not have the funds to cover due diligence costs.”

Grants can pay for that, or the local municipality might chip in. The community might want to create open space around a trail, Schwartz explained, “that they thought might be a good amenity for the town and for the residents.”

Protecting farmland would be a goal for the conservancy’s work in Sullivan County, he said.

Which led to ARPA.

“There’s enough flexibility in the act to allow investment in open space.”

Schwartz listed the ways that the DHC’s work would fit in. The federally suggested uses of the funding, which include public health, tourism, economic recovery, water and stormwater infrastructure, ”they all speak to the types of projects we do.”  

There is significant federal money in play. According to the final county distribution table (from the NYS Association of Counties, https://bit.ly/3kpAEMC), Pike County, PA, received a total of $10.8 million from ARPA; Wayne County, PA, received $9.97 million; Delaware County, NY received $8.57 million; Sullivan received $14.6 million.

Legislator Nadia Rajsz asked if the Ten Mile River Scout Camps had approached them. Schwartz said they had been, and that the camp is a “huge resource” biologically and archaeologically.

Legislator George Conklin asked what percentage of land acquired by the conservancy wound up in Department of Environmental Conservation ownership.

Another representative explained that the conservancy does not usually own the land, it works with easements. Schwartz said that sometimes they do pre-acquisition and another entity will eventually take ownership.

No promises were made. ARPA allocations for 2021 have already been made and there is no official word on plans for the 2022 funding.

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