County Looks To Federal Grants To Preserve Land

SNOW HILL – With state funding for land conservation limited, Worcester County is looking to federal grant funds to preserve two environmentally valuable properties.

The county is hoping that a U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant will largely fund the purchase of conservation easements on the Sturgis Farm, near Public Landing, and the Stark property, along the bay in the Newark area. There is no cash match required of the county. Unlike Rural Legacy funding, which is limited to a particular Rural Legacy area below Snow Hill, this type of funding can be used anywhere.

The Sturgis Farm, in particular, would be a significant easement, as it is already platted for 40 units of development, said Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman.

“Frankly, we’re really quite excited about it,” Coyman said.

Staff planner Katherine Munson added, “If we can extinguish those lots, that’s going to extinguish a lot of [environmental] pressure there.”

Both properties include farmland, tidal wetlands and coastal forest.

When the property owners first came to the county to offer conservation easements, there was no money available, Coyman said. Munson then located the federal grant.

“We have to be kind of opportunistic because these are volunteer programs,” Munson said. “[State] funding is really limited. We have a lot of interest in the MALPF [Maryland Agricultural Land Protection Fund] program. We have 15 applicants. We only expect to be able to purchase three easements.”

While easement purchases have been mostly confined to the Rural Legacy area around Stockton and Girdletree, there are at least four other properties near the Sturgis and Stark properties already protected, comprising 1,365 acres.

The grant, if awarded, and combined with some state funds, will protect 232 acres at the Sturgis Farm and 48 1/2 at the Stark property.

 “It’s a way to protect the tidal marsh system into the future,” Munson said. “It provides nutrient removal services to the bays and important habitat.”

According to Munson, the county is increasing land protection efforts, and will continue to look outside of current state funding for financial support. Efforts to bring more properties into the Rural Legacy program will continue, with one easement purchase going to settlement this week. The county is also working with Somerset County on establishing a new Rural Legacy site in the Dividing Creek area.