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How are we doing? – Land at risk

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Editor’s note: The N.C. Progress Board, a group created by state lawmakers to track trends in North Carolina and set goals for the state, issued its first report in December 2001.

(Each week, the Philanthropy Journal spotlights an issue examined in the report. The goals, targets and analysis below are those of the Progress Board.)

GOAL: North Carolina preserves and enhances the quality of rural and urban life.

TARGET:  North Carolina will increase the total area of permanently protected land by one million acres by 2010.

North Carolina has 2.8 million acres of permanently protected land, including parks, farm and forestland, historic or culturally significant sites, scenic vistas, watershed protection areas, floodplains and wildlife areas.

The federal government owns 72 percent of this land, North Carolina owns 19 percent, local governments own 5 percent and land trusts hold 4 percent.

Between 1982 and 1997, farms and forests lost the greatest amount of land.

Farmland decreased by 69,000 acres a year, while forests lost more than 77,000 acres a year. 

Stabilizing the trend of land conversion will require concerted effort and planning measures.

The protection of an additional 1 million acres of land over the next 10 years would increase North Carolina’s protected lands by 35 percent.

The goal of 1 million additional acres would complement the state’s efforts to provide high-quality drinking water, economically sound rural and urban communities, the integrity of ecological systems, sufficient recreational lands, and a high quality of life.

Attaining the measure would require the protection of 100,000 acres a year over the next 10 years.

However, present funding levels allow for protection of only 43,000 to 63,000 thousand acres per year, according to the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

TARGET:  By 2010, 2,000 brownfields properties will be fully utilized.

Brownfields are abandoned, idled or underused industrial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived contamination.

As a result of developers’ concerns about liability issues, the tendency has been to invest in undeveloped sites located in pristine areas, or greenfields.

This practice, however, perpetuates the expansion of urban sprawl by putting all the burdens of growth on current open space.

The safe redevelopment of brownfield sites will help to slow this historic trend.

The Brownfields Property Reuse Act of 1997 limits the liability of developers of brownfields, making the sites more attractive for development and safe through a combination of site cleanup and land-use restrictions.

The Brownfields Act has enabled the completion of nine brownfields agreements.

The principal barrier to brownfield redevelopment is the lack of personnel to review and approve sites.

The state Division of Waste Management has only one position — funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — dedicated to reviewing and approving brownfields.

To overcome that constraint, the City of Charlotte has provided a grant to the Division of Waste Management to review and approve brownfield projects in the city.

Property and other taxes generated by brownfields development will more than pay for the grant.

The state program has been effective in leveraging a large amount of private investment dollars with a small amount of public investment.

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