ACADEMY ROAD, THETFORD, VT—Through a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and donations from the Thetford Conservation Commission and the Upper Valley Land Trust, Thetford landowner Lilla Willey signed documents on Monday to permanently protect 51 additional acres of her scenic farmland on Academy Road. The signing of the conservation easement and the small celebration that followed took place at the Upper Valley Land Trust’s office on Buck Road in Hanover. The Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT) will be responsible for ensuring that the development restrictions included in the easement are adhered to in the years to come. The successful completion of this conservation project was made possible through a generous bargain sale of development rights donated by the landowner, which leveraged federal, state and local grant funding.
According to Li Shen, Chair of Thetford’s Conservation Commission, “If this land were not conserved it would become, no doubt, a highly desirable site for subdivision and development.” The recently conserved land includes almost 1,000 feet of road frontage on Academy Road and a sizeable open field, which combine to allow passers-by to glimpse scenic views of Mt. Cube, Smarts Mountain, Cardigan Mt., Holts Ledge, as well as the more distant Mt. Moosilauke. Academy Road is a town-designated scenic byway and has been selected as, “One of the highest priorities [for protection] for the municipality,” according to Thetford Selectboard Chair, Tig Tillinghast.
In addition to being scenic, the open field is very productive. It is made up of prime agricultural soils, as well as soils of statewide significance. These fields are hayed and leased by a local farmer and also used as horse pasture.
Approximately 28 acres of the property is managed forestland. Notably, this includes a stand of Norway spruce. The remaining forestland is characterized as a hemlock/hardwood forest. In addition to open farmland and the mixture of forest communities, the property includes two ponds and a small amount of wetland.
The Willey property also serves as an important scenic buffer to the award winning trail system on the nearby Thetford Hill State Park land. The trail system may be extended at some point in the future, since the conservation easement granted by Lilla Willey includes provisions for the possibility of future public access.
The protection of the Willey farmland adds to the already 377 acres protected within the immediate vicinity. These protected lands include Thetford Hill State Park, and two privately owned parcels, both conserved with UVLT. In total, there are 490 acres conserved by UVLT within 5 miles of the Willey Farm and an additional 1,400 acres of other protected lands. Current and future generations of Thetford residents and visitors will be able to enjoy the recreational, scenic, and agricultural uses that these conserved lands have to offer.
Please visit the Forest Society’s website: http://forestsociety.org/issues/lchip/ And then call your state representatives and ask them to oppose the diversion of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) fee. Find your representatives here: www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/members/wml.aspx.
Please visit Jim Blog’s blog http://www.jimblockphoto.com/blog/, and view images from a fun hike at a recently conserved sugarbush in Strafford, VT, owned by Sue Baker & managed by Elise & Tig Tillinghast. Thanks to all who were able to attend! We plan to visit this property again for a vernal pool walk with UVLT’s Amber Boland and VT Center for Ecostudies’ Steve Faccio on April 24 from 9am – 12pm. Visit our calendar page to learn more as we get closer to the event: http://www.uvlt.org/events_recreation.html
Under a light snowfall, we enjoyed an educational and pleasant walk led by Nicole Cormen along the Mascoma River on February 27. Nicole used an archeological assessment funded by Lebanon’s Conservation Commission to point out remnants of old mills. In addition, we passed by popular fishing spots and experienced a portion of the Rail Trail. This walk was part of the Mascoma River Nominating Committee’s outreach efforts.
The Mascoma River Nomination Committee will be hosting several public information sessions in Canaan, Enfield, and Lebanon during the month of April. The purpose is to inform the public of an effort to nominate the Mascoma River into the State Rivers Management and Protection Program, joining 17 other designated rivers in over 100 communities in New Hampshire. Designation would create a collaborative forum among riverfront towns to address river-related issues and help raise awareness of the river and its resources. For more information about this endeavor please visit http://www.uvlsrpc.org/MascomaRiver.html or contact Rachel Ruppel at (603) 448-1680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, we have recently posted a series of 5 articles written about the Mascoma River in 1992 by UVLT’s then-Executive Director, Tim Traver.
There is strong support from the leadership in both the House and the Senate to bring the VHCB appropriation for FY2011 to $11.1 million. This is significantly less than the total of $13.1 million that VHCB is receiving in FY 2010. The idea is to approve the Governor’s recommended $6.1 million from property transfer tax (PTT) revenues in the Appropriations Bill and $5 million in the Capital Bill. The PTT amount appears to have solid support in the House Appropriations Committee and there is growing interest in the House Institutions Committee to include VHCB in the Capital Bill.
The major task is to fit the requested $5 million within the $72 million cap for capital budget expenditures, which are supported by the issuance of 20-year general revenue bonds. The presumptive cap is the working figure based upon the recommendation (non-binding but very influential) of the Capital Debt Affordability Advisory Committee, chaired by the State Treasurer, Jeb Spaulding.
VHCB is one of the significant contenders to be funded within the $72 million cap. The potential options are to increase the cap; to fund portions of other demands in other ways, e.g., pay interest on school construction grants instead of the entire amount of the grant until the state’s revenues improve; and to fund certain capital requests for a term of less than 20 years, e.g., information technology improvements.
The talking points in support of the request for $5 million in the capital bill are:
- VHCB-supported housing and conservation investments produce a short-term economic stimulus while securing long term capital assets for the Vermont economy that will exist long after the bonds are paid off.
- Affordable housing construction projects produce jobs, jobs and jobs. Affordable housing developments are a proven way to reduce taxpayer funded human service assistance costs.
- Conservation projects invest in the cornerstones of our working lands economy: farming, forestry, and public access to recreation. These investments produce jobs while protecting our Vermont brand.
- During the economic downturn in the 1990s, 80 percent of the state investment into VHCB economic development projects was from the Capital Bill. There is solid precedent for Capital Bill investment into VHCB.
- Significant federal funds will be lost for Vermont without an adequate VHCB investment by the state.
We need your help in delivering this message. It is imperative that conservation supporters engage in a broad grassroots effort to let lawmakers know that VHCB has wide and deep support. This means phone calls, letters to the editor, opinion pieces and e-mails to your legislators.
Though the driving on February 24th was a bit treacherous, the Upper Valley sent several representatives to VHCC’s Legislative Day in Montpelier. In the morning, we heard from leaders in both the Senate and the House of their support for affordable housing and land conservation in Vermont, but this funding has not yet been secured.
The Governor’s budget includes $6.1 million of state funds for VHCB. VHCB advocates have asked for a total state investment level of $11, which would still be a 4% reduction from the level warranted by the existing state statute formula. Recognizing that state general fund dollars are in short supply, there is a lot of discussion about a multi-million dollar investment into VHCB through the Capital Bill to supplement the $6.1M property transfer tax figure.
Please contact your legislators today to voice your support of this plan. Find your VT legislators.
Below is a letter to the editor of the Journal Opinion by the Chair of Bradford’s Conservation Commission, Nancy Jones:
“In his January 7 State of the State address, Governor Jim Douglas stated that “VT’s commitment to our natural resources is unwavering. Our environmental leadership is a source of pride that sets us apart and gives us a leg-up in a green economy.” He went on to say, “That VT is the healthiest state comes as no surprise. It is our nature to be active, enjoy the outdoors and eat healthy.” But… the bulk of Governor Douglas’s speech was about spending cuts which he will present to the legislature on January 19th, and insiders fear his plan includes de-funding the VT Housing and Conservation Board.
The November/December 2009 issue of National Geographic Travel announced that Vermont was ranked 5th in the world for “destination stewardship”. In ranking destinations, 437 global panelists considered six criteria including environmental and ecological quality, social and cultural integrity, condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites, aesthetic appeal, quality of tourism management and outlook for the future.
“Vermont, more than any other American state, has worked to preserve those qualities and characteristics that make it unique,” commented one panelist. “It has a very effective statewide land trust and the state-funded Affordable Housing and Land Conservation Trust that rehabilitates historic buildings, like old mills, for low-income housing, and purchases conservation easements on farmland and forests. It has limited the spread of big-box retailing and works to retain locally owned retail, such as village stores. If you want to see New England as you imagine it, go to Vermont.”
Since 1987, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) has worked with Vermont municipalities and non-profit organizations to conserve more than 376,500 acres of farmland, natural areas and recreational lands and to develop more than 9,700 affordable homes, most of which are located in historic buildings in Vermont’s town and village centers. Most of Bradford’s working farm land has been protected via VHCB funds, over 700 acres of public and privately-owned forest land on Wright’s MT has been preserved forever, thanks to funding from VHCB. Bradford’s revitalized South Main Street and subsequent affordable housing was made possible because of VHCB funding, while simultaneously providing a multitude of jobs that stimulated our local economy.
Governor Douglas emphasized “Fiscal responsibility, efficient government and environmental protection” in his January 7 address. In light of VHCB’s enviable track record, de-funding it would be fiscally irresponsible and inefficient, and would be devastating to the very environment that sets VT apart.
I encourage all Vermonters to ask their legislators to preserve the funding for the VT Housing and Conservation Board.” Find your VT legislators.