Ridgeville resident William Baughman wrote the following Letter to the Editor in Charleston’s April 12th Post and Courier:
I agree with the March 25 letter headlined “Private easements” about the importance of using conservation easements to protect South Carolina land for future generations.
As we go through efforts such as the county comprehensive plan updates, we hear over and over the public’s desire to protect scenic areas, particularly along streams, to prevent development on unsuitable land and to maintain the rural nature of our area as much as possible.
Voluntary conservation easements by private landowners typically accomplish these objectives at significantly lower costs than fee purchases, which require ongoing funding for land management in addition to the initial investment.
Tax write-offs and cash payments normally reimburse owners with only a fraction of the value given up and the costs incurred by landowners who choose to protect their lands by placing conservation easements on them.
It is also important to remember that tracts under conservation easements remain on tax rolls while publicly owned lands do not.
I purchased a large tract along the main run of Four Hole Swamp in Dorchester County and decided to place a conservation easement on it to ensure that the land stayed as it was. Despite my background in land management, I was surprised at the significant appraisal, survey and legal fees I had to pay out-of-pocket to accomplish my objective.
Some conservation easements do allow public access, but those that don’t still greatly benefit the public — by guarding watersheds, scenic areas and natural habitats, and by providing breathing room in rapidly growing communities such as our own.
If we want to preserve the scenic value of the Lowcountry and prevent overdevelopment, we South Carolinians, particularly lawmakers, must support the protection of land, both public and private. To do so we must understand not only the rights and value that landowners relinquish when they make a commitment to protect their land but also the costs they incur.