Dorchester County Conservation Commission has received its first designation of funds and is now seeking Dorchester County land with owners interested in preserving their lands either through the negotiation of a conservation easement or through the purchase of the properties.
The commission is a citizen board appointed to make land conservation recommendations to county council. The commission is funded by a $5 million bond referendum passed in 2010.
"(We) are thrilled to be able to begin the process that will allow us to offer to Council land conservation options of both impressive quantity and quality," Conservation Commission Chairman Michael Dawson said.
There is an application process that allows the commission to score and rank potential projects based on their conservation or historic value with extra value placed on properties that support the goals of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
High scoring projects will ultimately be recommended to county council for final approval.
The Comprehensive Plan designates land along the major waterways within the County (Edisto River, Cypress Swamp/ Ashley River, Four Holes Swamp), as priorities. The scoring process looks at such things as the uniqueness of the ecosystem, proximity to priority waterways, historic aspects, connection to already protected lands, scenic view protection, amount of public support, value for the dollar, and potential for matching with other funding sources.
Conservation easements offer income and estate tax advantages to the landowner and can ensure that the land is protected for future generations. Each easement is individualized to meet the needs of the landowner while incorporating conservation goals. For example, a landowner along the Edisto River may agree not to log his land or may agree to build within a 400-foot buffer from the water’s edge, thus protecting the view of paddlers and fishermen enjoying the river. The landowner still owns the land and maintains his right to hunt or fish the property, or to enjoy the land in other ways. The land remains on the tax rolls and there are no management, maintenance or infrastructure development costs to the county.
Conservation easements last forever, and a third party Land Trust holds the easement and makes sure the agreement is not broken. Easements are a way to accomplish extensive conservation without the expenses to the County of total purchase of the property.
Fee Simple Purchase of properties involves the county actually buying the land from willing landowners at or below appraised values. Given the limits on the bond funds, projects in this category will have to have exceptional conservation or historic value to be considered.
Interested landowners can find more information or download an application from this story or at the county's website, www.dorchestercounty.net.