Last updated: December 23. 2013 1:01PM - 1064 Views
Wil Petty Staff Writer jpetty@civitasmedia.com

Stephen and Barbara Benson donated over 60 acres of land to the National Committee of the New River to help protect streams and tributaries that flow into the South Fork New River in Ashe County.
Stephen and Barbara Benson donated over 60 acres of land to the National Committee of the New River to help protect streams and tributaries that flow into the South Fork New River in Ashe County.
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The National Committee for the New River has worked with a local family to secure 61 acres of land outside of Todd.

The land was donated by Barbara and Stephen Benson and was done voluntarily.

“This is some land that has been in their family for a couple of generations,” said George Santucci, Executive Director for the NCNR. “Tributaries and streams along that property flow into the South Fork of the New River.”

With the new land, the NCNR has now been able to protect close to 8,000 acres around the New River watershed. A majority of the protected land is in North Carolina with approximately 2,500 acres protected in Virginia and West Virginia.

“We have been putting a lot of focus on the headwaters,” Santucci said. “We started (in Ashe) and originated here. This is where our base of support is.”

The donation still allows for the Benson family to live on the property and gives them the right to build one home along the 60 acres. It does remain private property, but secures the land as permanently protected from development.

“Everything that we have done out there, are out of her wishes,” Santucci said. “There are ways we work with land owners to honor what they want to leave as a legacy on that property.

Santucci said the agreement allows the NCNR to come out and steward the property, making sure the agreements in the deed are maintained. The agreements which are made are permanent.

Donating land for protection also gives families the chance to receive tax breaks.

“Landowners get tax breaks because they are giving out value in their property,” Santucci said. “They are reducing the value of the property because you can’t build 10 or 20 homes out there. Because they gave up the future earning on that property, the federal government gives them a tax deduction for that purpose.”

North Carolina also used to give a tax credit but has removed it, and in Virginia, the tax credit is 40 percent of the donated value. Within the Commonwealth, tax credits can then be transferred and sold to others.

The NCNR works on the agreements and help file the deeds in the courthouse.

“We work with the landowner and they express what they hope for the future of the property,” Santucci said. “We take all of that and put it into a conservative easement, which is actually a deed on the property.”

The easements can also state if agriculture, timbering or building will be allowed on the property. These are all decided by the owner.

Aside from the tax benefits, donations help secure a cleaner watershed within the New River.

“Probably the greatest challenge to water quality in the New River is excessive development,” Santucci said. “While we know there needs to be development in towns, the more space there is around the towns and houses, the better it is for the river.”

Santucci said these agreements and donations secure better water quality in the region.

“This is a tool that we can use to ensure a certain amount of land will remain open, wild and protect the water quality,” he said. “If a watershed gets overdeveloped, you are almost guaranteed the water quality will be substandard.”

The NCNR sees the agreements as a way to help preserve the land for future generations.

“We really enjoy working with the landowners who voluntarily want to protect not only their property and the water, but the legacy of their families,” Santucci said. “We are really proud to partner with these families and help ensure what they want to see in the future stays that way.”

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