For Ted Clement, executive director of Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) on Aquidneck Avenue in Middletown, environmental conservation is not only a career, but a life-long calling.
Originally from Vermont, Clement worked for the Vermont Land Trust, Peace Corps and Outward Bound School before relocating to Rhode Island to join ALT back in 2000. Today, in addition to his role at ALT, he also serves on the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, ecoRI news and Center for Whole Communities.
“Good conservation is like good government,” he said. “You need good checks and balances.”
He uses his legal background to do just that. The mission of ALT is to conserve open spaces through permanent, legally binding agreements.
He explained when land is donated to a town, such as a park, the intent to preserve the land could be drafted as part of the deed, but those wishes have been known to be ignored once the donor has passed away.
Clement pointed out cities and towns often sell open space for budgetary reasons, but that decision is a permanent one.
“Parks are priceless and irreplaceable,” he added.
He stressed that land conservation impacts the entire island, and that borders are merely political. “We are an ecosystem,” he said.
He used the upcoming campaign to as an example. The land is in Portsmouth, but the conservation efforts would maintain a natural barrier to St. Mary’s Pond and help preserve the water quality for the island as a whole.
ALT focuses on the conservation of land that has value for wildlife, recreation, scenic vistas, water quality and agriculture.
“One of the biggest threats to agriculture in the Northeast is fragmentation,” Clement said. It is logistically difficult and expensive for farmers to move between fields if they are in different locations, he explained.
He pointed out that once natural barriers are removed, large, expensive projects such as the City of Newport’s UV Plant are required to substitute natural filtration systems.
How Does ALT Conserve Land?
Although many property owners donate land to ALT, for many families, their land is their largest financial asset, said Clement. For these families, ALT will purchase a conservation easement, which is a legal agreement between the landowner and ALT, that removes the right to develop the land.
“It’s a win-win,” Clement said.
Financially, it provides the landowner the negotiated price, but it also can provide many tax benefits.
Clement said he can not promise tax incentives, but the agreement usually lowers income, estate and property taxes for the landowner. Once the right to develop the land has been removed, the overall value has been reduced, which can lower property and estate taxes, he said.
He said that the agreement is typically considered a charitable donation, which can be deducted towards income taxes over a five year period.
The most recent conservation easement agreement was negotiated between ALT and the Pimolwatana family for $98,000. This will help to conserve almost six acres that will help protect the Maidford River in Middletown. Clement said they hope to close on the agreement in the spring.