Selling an Easement
While most easements are granted as gifts, government agencies and nonprofit organizations occasionally do purchase conservation easements. Acquisition funds are limited, though, so most of these purchases are below fair market value (see the bargain sale section in chapter 4). Less commonly, an easement is exchanged for a charitable gift annuity, through which a land trust makes regular, fixed payments to a landowner over time. Selling a conservation easement at full value rules out a charitable deduction and usually triggers a capital gains tax. It can also require more time to complete the transaction, given the fundraising needs of the purchasing organization or agency.
photo: QUODDY TIDES
Through the State purchase of an easement on Tide Mill Farm, community members can now enjoy activities there like hiking, picnicking and educational programs.
Selling a Conservation Easement
For eight generations, the Bell family has lived and worked on Tide Mill Farm, an active saltwater farm of 1,500 acres in Whiting. The Bells wanted to keep working their land and have their children do the same. Like so many Maine families, though, they were land-rich and cash poor. “Allowing for traditional use of the land and for the family heritage to remain intact made it hard to survive financially,” explains Terry Bell.“ But we realized that to hand our children the legacy of this place as we know it has a real value beyond any amount of money.”
As much as they wanted to protect their long-time homestead, the Bells could not afford to donate a conservation easement. After meeting with Quoddy Regional Land Trust (QRLT) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust, they realized there might be an opportunity for selling an easement. The land trusts proposed the project to Land for Maine’s Future (LMF), a state program established in 1987 and funded by two public land acquisition bonds totaling $85 million. “Competition for LMF funding was fierce,” recalls QRLT executive director Alan Brooks. “Our faith in Tide Mill Farm’s superlative scenic, ecological and recreational values was borne out when the project scored near the top of LMF’s statewide rankings.”
The LMF Board voted to purchase a conservation easement on Tide Mill Farm that protects its scenic store front vistas, diverse wildlife habitat and traditional public access. The fields, woodlands and tidal flats offer critical habitat for black bear, moose, deer, shorebirds, seals and two nesting pairs of American bald eagles. Under the terms of the easement, visitors can hike, picnic, ski and hunt on portions of the property that do not intrude on the farmstead where the Bell family continues to maintain their working farm and woodlot.