FORT EDWARD — Former Fort Edward Town Supervisor Merrilyn Pulver-Moulthrop hopes to sell nearly 200 acres of land as a wildlife management area to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Selling the land as a wildlife management area requires the approval of the Fort Edward Town Board.
The Friends of the Washington County Grasslands Important Birding Area submitted a proposal to the Fort Edward Town Board on Monday in support of the sale as an environmental conservation measure.
The IBA already controls 15 acres of land that supports 10 of 11 endangered grassland birds listed in the state’s 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.
The board’s primary concern was the loss of tax revenue. In its proposal, the friends have made it clear they will pay $3,804 annually to the town in lieu of taxes.
Pulver-Moulthrop’s land, located just off Plum Road between state Route 197 and county Route 46, is important to the IBA because it would almost double the size of state protected grasslands in the area.
“Our mission is to protect these endangered grassland birds,” said Laurie LaFond, director of conservation and program development at the IBA.
The IBA does not intend to make payments on the land forever. LaFond said her organization is hoping new legislation, which was passed by the state Senate during the last legislative session, will soon pass through the Assembly, allowing the state to pay taxes on the land.
Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, worked to bring the bill up for a successful vote in the Senate this year, but the session ended before the bill could be voted on in the Assembly.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, has pledged her support to bring the bill up for a vote when the new legislative session begins.
Mary-Ellen Stockwell, the town’s legal representative, said the problem with the proposal in its current form is there is no way for the town to ensure the payments are made by the IBA.
“It has no teeth,” Stockwell said.
She said if the board is going to enter into a contract with the IBA, there would need to be a promissory note or similar measure.
It was also noted by Stockwell that the school district should be consulted, as it also would be affected by the loss of tax revenue if the IBA failed to pay.
Supervisor Mitchell Suprenant asked LaFond if she thought one of the group’s members would be willing to make the payments in the event that the organization ceased to exist. LaFond said that is something the group would be willing to investigate.
The board also asked if the IBA would turn over its financial records, which LaFond said they would be willing to do.
Suprenant said the board is not unsupportive of the measure, but said town officials must consider the future of the town.
“We are losing our tax base, so we don’t want to take the loss,” he said.
According to Suprenant, while the funds are not a significant source of revenue for the town, he said with the proposal of creating Water District 3 in Fort Edward, the town is wary of letting the land drop from the tax rolls.
Even with his concerns, Suprenant expressed his support for the project and encouraged the IBA to bring the issue back to the board when the two members who were absent on Monday could attend.
“I’m for it. Some of our board members have different opinions, but that’s what a board is,” Suprenant said.
LaFond said she was pleased with the progress that was made at the meeting and said she has hope for the project moving forward.
“I think it’s moving in the right direction and we were pleased with how receptive the board was,” LaFond said.
LaFond said in addition to preserving the land for endangered grassland birds, the effort also brings people to Fort Edward. Pulver-Moulthrop said she has seen this already with people coming to her property in search of these rare birds.
“I’m really hopeful the town will agree to the purchase. It will help the overall economy of the town,” Pulver-Moulthrop said.
Pulver-Moulthrop sold a similar 100-acre parcel to the state in 2008 in order to preserve it. This sale would connect the two properties.
“I just really hope the board appreciates what it is the IBA is trying to do,” Pulver-Moulthrop said.
At the meeting, Pulver-Moulthrop addressed the board, explaining she could most likely get more money for her land if she sold it to someone other than the state. She said, however, she felt preserving the property was more important.
The Pulver-Moulthrop family has owned the land for nearly 50 years, but she said it was time to start letting it go.
At present, 94 acres of Pulver-Moulthrop’s land has a conservation easement, which she put in place in 2002. The easement prevents any type of development on the property until June 28, 2052.