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Landowners learn about easements
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Qualified conservation purposes
• Preservation of land areas for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public.
• Protection of natural habitat of fish, wildlife, plants, or similar ecosystem.
• Preservation of open space for the scenic enjoyment of the general public, or pursuant to a clearly delineated governmental policy, which will yield a significant benefit.
• Preservation of an historically important land area or a certified historic structure.

The Coastal Regional Commission, invited landowners, elected officials and conservation specialists from 10 surrounding counties to a forum Tuesday morning to discuss the benefits of conservation easements for local land and farm owners.
Katherine Eddins, speaker and executive director of Georgia Land Trust, explained to the crowd of about 35 that a conservation easement is a legal deed landowners can voluntarily sign guaranteeing they will not develop their land in return for property-tax relief as well as security in property ownership through future generations.
The deed is permanent.
“They’re long-term guidelines for how the property will be used,” Eddins said. “The terms are up to the landowners.”
While she said owners have the right to decide terms of their contracts, they must comply with IRS standards to receive the tax benefit.
Since 2000, Eddins said the Georgia Land Trust and its two partners have put easements on more than 115,000 acres of land in Georgia assisting about 350 landowners through the process.
Eddins said people who have land that backs up to Fort Stewart might be especially interested in the program as Fort Stewart officials, who are interested in keeping a buffer of undeveloped land around the post, are offering to help with the initial costs associated with signing a conservation easement.
“Basically the Army will pay for land easement,” Eddins said, adding that the funds are limited.
According to Eddins, the costs of getting an easement include:  cost of land appraisal ($2,000-20,000), baseline documentation report (maps of land and resource inventory, $3,000 plus) and natural resource management plan (free-$5,000).
She said the most important thing in starting the process is finding a reliable appraiser.
Bob Wagner with American Farmland Trust said people interested need to act fast though as the program will end at the close of 2009 if more legislation isn’t passed.
He said currently there are two bills in Congress, Senate Bill 812 and House Bill 1831, that would extend the rules and make them more permanent. He said currently Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isackson support the senate bill. Rep. Jack Kingston has not shown support for the house bill.
Sonny Timmerman, director of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, said he’s unsure about the exact amount of land in Liberty County that would qualify, but said it’s a lot.
“It’s a great program,” he said.
However, some landowners at the meeting were skeptical.
“They are for people who have great amounts of income,” said Laura Devendorf, owner of Melon bluff Nature Center and local landowner, adding the concern that landowners are also giving up any future rights.
“As a landowner, you a have a bundle of rights,” she said, refering to air and mineral rights. “You’re giving away the entire bundle.”
Devendorf said the same conservation effects can be achieved by creating a foundation with a board to govern the land, but without the risk of losing the right to do what you want with the land.
“Do your homework,” she advises local landowners.
Another of Devendorf’s concerns, one that Eddins also mentioned, is that landowners are more likely to be audited by the IRS by placing an easement on land.
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