Amidst the general chaos in Richmond, the General Assembly is quietly winding down with Sine Die (last day of session) just around the corner on February 23. While the headlines are focused on other news coming out of Richmond, I would like to turn your attention toward something you can do for conservation in these last days of the 2019 legislative session.
Near the end of last month, we alerted you to a number of amendments and budget measures to correct the lack of funding for natural resource protection in the Commonwealth’s budget. Unfortunately, the House and Senate both passed respective budgets that failed to address conservation funding in favor of other issues.
Helping the Nixon family protect Glenmary Farm is a great example of how PEC has used the federal ACE program efficiently and effectively. Virginia will be hard pressed to take full advantage of the additional federal funding to conserve farmland and improve water quality without increased funding to its own conservation grant programs.
This inaction leaves Virginia’s conservation grant programs — the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Farmland Preservation Fund and Battlefield Preservation Fund — woefully underfunded. Combined, these programs are supposed to receive approximately $20 million per year, but are funded at less than a quarter of that level.
If legislators fail to support even modest increases to the Farmland Protection Program and Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, it will be difficult to provide matching funds for the additional $4-10 million in federal funding available from the Farm Bill (enacted in December). The federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) can be used to match state, local, and private dollars to accelerate the protection of the important farmlands that are the base of farming and forestry businesses.
A conference committee has been formed to resolve differences between the House and Senate budget versions. It is important that members of the conference committee hear from you if conservation priorities are to make it to the Governor’s desk.
1) Reach Out By Email:
We’ve created a letter to cover several conservation priorities, so it requires just a few quick clicks to let conference committee members and their aides know you care.
2) Or… Make Phone Calls:
We’ve pulled together a list of legislators’ phone numbers, the budget amendments to support and a sample script to use:
- Senator Norment (Co-Chair), 804-698-7503, email@example.com
- Senator Hanger (Co-Chair), 804-698-7524, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Senator Howell, 804-698-7532, email@example.com
- Senator Saslaw, 804-698-7535, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Senator Newman, 804-698-7523, email@example.com
- Senator Ruff, 804-698-7515, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Senator Wagner, 804-698-7507, email@example.com
- Delegate Jones (Chairman), 804-698-1076, DelCJones@house.virginia.gov
- Delegate Landes, 804-698-1025, DelSLandes@house.virginia.gov
- Delegate Peace, 804-698-1097, DelCPeace@house.virginia.gov
- Delegate Knight, 804-698-1081, DelBKnight@house.virginia.gov
- Delegate Garrett, 804-698-1023, DelSGarrett@house.virginia.gov
- Delegate Torian, 804-698-1052, DelLTorian@house.virginia.gov
- Delegate Sickles, 804-698-1043, DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov
Hi my name is ______*. I am calling in support of budget measures to fund important land conservation, farmland preservation and water quality objectives. As a member of the Budget Conference Committee, I would ask for the Senator/Delegate’s assistance on the following budget items:
Specific budget measures and amendments to support:
- Full funding for Virginia’s three main conservation grant programs: Virginia Land Conservation Foundation ($16M per year), Farmland Preservation Fund ($2M per year) and Battlefield Preservation Fund ($2M per year).
- The House budget inclusion of $93.8M for the agricultural cost-share program (Ag BMPs) in FY19.
- The Senate budget inclusion of $10 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund in FY19.
- The Senate budget measure reinstating the Virginia Outdoors Foundation statutory distribution formula (25% of VLCF funding to Preservation Trust Fund). Amendment 363 5s.
- The study on the creation of the Brandy Station Cedar Mountain State Park. Amendment 363 2s.
Budget measures to oppose:
- The Route 29 Eastern Bypass Study. Item 449 2s Thank you for your time and I would like to extend my thanks to the Delegate/Senator in advance for their attention to these matters.
* Be sure to indicate if the Senator is your representative or your relationship with them if they are a friend or acquaintance.
One Additional and Important Note: the pesky Study of the Eastern Bypass of Route 29 around Charlottesville – SJ259 – which was defeated in Senate Finance on a 10-1 vote, somehow made it into the Senate Budget. There needs to be a strong push with conference committee members to ensure this measure is defeated. More on this below.
More About the Specific Programs
Agricultural Best Management Practices (Ag BMPs)
Learn more about how farmers like Tony Pullaro are using funding for Ag BMPs, in a short video produced by our partners at the Choose Clean Water Coalition.
The state’s cost share program for Ag BMPs includes funding for farmers to fence cattle out of streams, plant riparian buffers, use cover crops and reduce fertilizer use. They are vital to protecting the water we drink and also help ensure a sustainable agricultural industry in Virginia.
- Ask: Support the House budget of $93.8 million for Ag BMPs in FY19.
Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF)
SLAF is another important statewide program that helps localities protects water quality that we are working hard to support.
- Ask: Support the Senate proposed budget of $10 million for SLAF in FY19.
Conservation Grant Programs
The Rapidan River winding its way through Orange County, VA. Photo by Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program.
The most important grant funding mechanisms for preserving historic, cultural and natural resources come from these three programs – the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Farmland Preservation Fund and Battlefield Preservation Fund. Historically underfunded, these three programs should receive $20 million a year – $16M VLCF, $2M for Farmland Preservation and $2M for Battlefield Preservation.
- Ask: Support full funding of all three programs
Restoring the Preservation Trust Fund
The purpose of the PT fund is to provide monetary assistance to landowners related to the costs associated with the conveyance of an open-space or conservation easement. Costs that the fund may reimburse include legal costs, appraisal and other costs, and all or part of the easement’s value. Priority may be given to applicants (individuals or localities) who seek cost re-reimbursement only, demonstrate financial need, or cover a family-owned or -operated farm.
- Ask: Support the Senate Budget, reinstating the Virginia Outdoors Foundation Statutory Distribution Formula (25% of VLCF funding to Preservation Trust Fund) – Amendment 363 5s.
Route 29 Eastern Bypass Study
The Senate Budget now includes the provisions from SJ259, creating a study of the feasibility of an eastern bypass for Rt. 29 around Charlottesville. An eastern bypass has been studied before and was soundly rejected. This study is a distraction from the agreed upon solutions of both Albemarle County and Charlottesville.
- Ask: Oppose item (449 2s) in the Senate Budget.
Potential Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park
Please support the study on creation of the Brandy Station Cedar Mountain State Park, located in an underserved area of Virginia (Culpeper).
- Ask: Support the Senate budget which includes amendment 363 2s.
Thanks again for your action during session. The summaries above are not all inclusive of the legislation we tracked and worked. Stay tuned for a final wrap-up email with information about other bills we’ve been working this session.
As always, please feel free to follow up with me directly if you have questions on any of these budget items, bills, or other things you hear coming out of Richmond.
Director of State Policy
The Piedmont Environmental Council