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NC Budget Deal: Land-Conservation Projects Breathe Sigh of Relief

Grassy Ridge Bald is a 601-acre protected tract of land in the Road Highlands of the Pisgah National Forest. Credit: Witt Langstaff Jr.
Grassy Ridge Bald is a 601-acre protected tract of land in the Road Highlands of the Pisgah National Forest. Credit: Witt Langstaff Jr.
September 14, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - Members of the North Carolina legislature will likely get their first look today at the budget deal reached by Republican leaders late Friday, after the longest budget-writing session in 14 years.

The months of waiting have put hundreds of state programs in limbo, including pending land-conservation projects. Many of those projects count on monies from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.

Edgar Miller, director of government relations with the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, says the state's 25 land conservancies have been in a holding pattern all summer.

"It's really just holding up those projects, which many land trusts have those applications pending and would hope to get those projects closed by the end of the year, but with the budget delay they may not be able to do that," says Miller.

Now that it appears a budget deal is imminent, grant committees will have to reschedule meetings to review the $60 million in grant requests for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and $4 million in requests from the Agricultural Development Trust Fund.

The delay also has impacted property owners across the state who previously agreed to sell land or development rights to their land to conservation groups.

Miller says the larger issue for the state's land conservancies, is keeping up with funding demands and making up for the loss in funds seen as a result of the Great Recession.

"We are hoping as the budget gets sorted out there will be some modest increases to these trust funds and then potentially be able to fund more of these projects," Miller says.

Land conservancies in the state protect more than 400,000 acres of land and improve the quality of life for residents by protecting water for drinking and recreation, maintaining access to public lands for hiking and other activities for the improvement of health and preserve farmlands and access to local, healthy food.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC