NH House bill to allow changing conservation easements

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peakbagger

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Some NH House members are submitting a bill to allow changes to conservation easements. Generally conservation easements are "forever" and means of locking in permanent restrictions put in place on parcels of land. In order for an easement to be continued "forever" it is generally put in a third parties hand to administer and enforce the easements. In many cases, the third party is the state of NH. Many reasons for that but a big one is that if it goes to private organization, like a land trust, there usually has to be block of funds set aside for perpetual administration of the easement. That raises the cost of the transaction. The state on the other hand does not charge to administer. In other cases I think its just required by the source of funding. The problem had been that an easement is only as good as the third party administering it, and in several high profile cases, the state has violated that trust and made changes there were not authorized to do what can and can not be done with these properties. If things get bad enough a third party can haul the state (or any trustee) to court to force the restrictions to be enforced but this is expensive and long drawn out process as the state can assign virtually unlimited resources to delay the case while the party going to court has to pay for these resources. Examples of this are spread all over the state, the state building a communications tower on summit protected by private groups and then assigned to the state, the Ossipee mess where the state sided with the landowner to limit recreational use despite a prior large payment of federal forest legacy funds to the landowner to protect recreational access, violations of the Nash Stream management plan by adding ATV trails, Cannon Mtn arbitrarily deciding long ago that non winter season recreation access on State owned land is not allowed and no doubt others.

In some cases outside groups have forced the state to follow the rules and in others they haven't been successful. At least there was some legal option to contest the violation. This bill provides a huge out to this problem by adding "for any reason that advances the public good" Public good is very nebulous term that can be used politically for numerous changes. It no doubt can be applied to motorized access to areas with non motorized restrictions (like Nash Stream), telecom towers on protected summits, banning trails where its convenient for the landowner despite having sold recreational rights. This bill effectively guts conservation easements by making them vulnerable to future administrations and the bureaucrats in the background. As one of our members commented about pointing out violations of state policy with respect to ATV access, its not popular to go against the policy in a department no matter if he was right.

http://gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billText.aspx?sy=2021&id=64&txtFormat=pdf&v=current

Nothing in this section shall prohibit a governmental body and
a landowner from changing the terms of an established conservation easement, including
but not limited to exchanging another parcel in return for easing current use restrictions,
if such change is to correct an injustice or for any reason that advances the public good.
 
"the public good". Why does that phrase seem ominous? Any ideas why it was put forward now? The sponsors are from Cheshire 1

HOUSE
Public Hearing: 02/23/2021 09:00 am Members of the public may attend using the following link:To join the webinar: https://www.zoom.us/j/91815905671 / Executive session on pending legislation may be held throughout the day (time permitting) from the time the committee is initially convened.
 
The NH house and senate shifted from Democrat controlled to Republican, there are a lot of conservative bills that are popping up on the calendar. Conservation easements generally are not supported by conservative causes even though they are generally a willing buyer/willing seller transaction.

Yes the "public good" is ominous as the party in power determines what the current "public good" is. In the case of Northern Pass, imagine that a conservative legislature decided that Franconia Notch State Park was a perfect place to build a high voltage transmission line? I believe the core portions of the park were privately purchased and transferred to the state to be protected "forever". A republican governor got elected into NH too late in the process to influence the final decision on NP but he did try to bend it his way by not reappointing certain potential members of the SEC and appointing NP friendly members.

If you look into the history of Baxter State Park, Percival Baxter despite being a conservative politician didnt trust politicians as he had observed a large amount of the public lands sold to the most politically connected and trashed. He went through incredibly great lengths to establish that his deeds of trust over decades and multiple legislative sessions would be immune to subsequent legislative action.
 
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Being involved with conservation lands and easements from different perspectives over the past 25 years in NH, I would never give land to be entrusted by a NH state agency. Shocking how thin 'protection' of land is on the state level. I have become increasingly supportive of this states largest land conservation organization over the years in light of what I have observed (SPNHF). There is already a process for this, this bill just seeks to make it easier. Deep breath.
 
If you look into the history of Baxter State Park, Percival Baxter despite being a conservative politician didnt trust politicians as he had observed a large amount of the public lands sold to the most politically connected and trashed. He went through incredibly great lengths to establish that his deeds of trust over decades and multiple legislative sessions would be immune to subsequent legislative action.

I think you mean "because" he was a conservative politician (not despite) he didn't trust politicians. In general, conservatives do not trust government.

Late edit. I may have misunderstood. If you meant that despite being a politician he didn't trust politicians, then I withdraw my above remark. In that respect, Baxter was spot on.
 
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