Monday, February 23, 2009

Joyce Hale pushing major legislation into legislative mix to protect wetland and riparian zones in Arkansas

Please click on image of stream-bed dredging and adjacent riparian-zone damage. The bill in the Arkansas General Assembly described below has a chance of preventing such madness.

Dear Friends,

Most of you know that I have been spending the better part of the last two years in an effort to preserve water and land resources in Arkansas with state tax credit incentives enjoyed by twelve other states. It has been a long road to today, but I am proud to announce that HB1577 was birthed shortly after noon today and is ready to run the legislative gauntlet on its way to passage. You may or may not be interested in reading all that is attached, but I just wanted you know that this small demonstration project has a chance of showing how important it is to protect Arkansas's water quality. The original bill that is being amended, would only offer credits to repair damaged wetlands and riparian areas. This amendment provides tax credits to landowners for protecting quality wetlands and riparian areas before they are damaged by development. If you are an Arkansan and inclined to speak positively about this to your state representative, I would be grateful for your support. These are challenging times economically and ecologically. This small program is only a first step to bring a full fledged conservation tax credit program to life. If it goes well, we will move to Plan B for something with real conservation potential. There is much to protect and your support might be just the amount to tip the balance in the final vote.


Joyce Hale

WHAT THE BILL DOES: Creates a new conservation easement program within the existing Wetland and Riparian Zones Tax Credit Program (Section 26-51-1501) under the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission; and establishes a new state income tax credit which can be granted under certain conditions to Arkansas landowners who voluntarily set aside land for the protection and enhancement of the water quality of our streams, rivers and lakes.
• Stream Bank Protection Works: It’s well known that setting aside land along our streams, rivers and lakes for the restoration of natural ground cover helps reduce erosion, sedimentation run-off, and stream-bank deterioration, thereby improving water quality. In addition, wetland and riparian zones provide habitats for fish and wildlife; help groundwater recharge; provide more opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking; and encourage the restoration of timber and grasslands. We believe protecting the quality of Arkansas waters is crucial to maintaining and enhancing the quality of life for all Arkansans.

• Existing Law: Currently, ANRC’s Wetland and Riparian Zone Creation and Restoration Tax Credit allows landowners to claim a tax credit for 100% of the costs associated with creating or restoring a wetland and/or riparian area – presuming they maintain the area for at least 10 years.

• What’s Proposed: Under this bill, landowners wishing to donate a wetland or riparian area conservation easement or full real property interest would be able to apply for a state income tax credit of up to 50% of the fair market value (but no more than $50,000) of the wetland and riparian land they donate to a land trust or governmental entity in perpetuity. We’ve named this a “Wetland and Riparian Zone Conservation Tax Credit”.

• Caps on Tax Credits: The draft legislation would make any approved conservation tax credit donation subject to the same $5,000 annual tax credit cap for each donation and the same 9 year carryover that currently applies to the existing Wetland and Riparian Zone Creation and Restoration Tax Credit program. Both the proposed and existing tax credits are non-transferable and limited to the existing $500,000 programmatic cap.

• No General Revenue Impact: DF&A says that the proposed conservation tax credit program has NO fiscal impact to the state since it uses existing and under-utilized funding within the existing ANRC budget.

• Who Approves? Conservation tax credit applications would be reviewed by the same Committee that reviews ANRC’s current program, with approval by the Natural Resources Commission. Members of the Committee are the directors of the Forestry Commission, the Game and Fish Commission, the Department of Finance & Administration, the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and the Department of Environmental Quality, along with two members with expertise in wetlands and riparian zone ecology appointed by the Commission.

• Cost Effective: We believe the cost of protection will be much less than the cost of fixing the problem. Cleaning up dirty water, and restoring eroded stream banks is expensive. Building a natural system to protect water quality helps our environment and our economy, and it’s a cost effective use of taxpayer dollars.

• Access to Federal Tax Deductions: The proposed legislation includes language that meets IRS criteria for accessing federal income tax deductions for the granting of conservation easements or full real property interests.

• Oversight and Accountability: Valuation of the donation is determined by strict professional appraisal standards; stacking of tax credits is prohibited; ANRC sets the rules and keeps the records to ensure performance; DF&A would review to prevent abuse, and DF&A will report the total cumulative use of the tax credits.

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