UNION TOWNSHIP ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION
ANJEC Grant Will Help Educate Property Owners about Easements
Union Township, Hunterdon has received a 2011 Land Use Planning Grant from ANJEC, the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. The $2500.00 grant will allow Union Township Environmental Commission (UTEC) volunteers to complete a conservation easement inventory database, and to develop a landowner outreach and monitoring program for conservation easements. The goal, according to UTEC Chair Chuck La Tournous, is to preserve and protect wildlife habitats and water resources through good stewardship of the over 220 conservation easements that the township currently holds with residential property owners.
Michele McBride, Union Township Committeewoman, started the conservation easement inventory project in 2009 as a UTEC member while completing requirements to become a certified Rutgers Environmental Steward. She was able to develop a database of over 200 conservation easements within the township, utilizing the records available within the township's municipal building. Volunteers from the Environmental Commission will now be able to complete the deed search at the Hunterdon County Hall of Records and finalize the database for publication on the township's website. A color coded easement parcel map will also be created with the ANJEC grant which will include preserved open space and farmland.
Union Township Mayor Bill Bischoff, who also sits on the township's Planning Board, acknowledges that the property owner education / awareness project being conducted by UTEC is key to maintaining conservation easements and sensitive environmental areas. Conservation easements are legally binding agreements that limit the type and amount of development that can occur on the portion of a property where the easement lies. The specific terms of a conservation easement can vary for each property, but within Union Township they often serve as groundwater recharge areas upon which the township is dependent for drinking water and agricultural production. Conservation easements also help preserve wooded areas, protect stream corridors, provide endangered species habitat, preserve scenic views, absorb stormwater, and help to establish a system of greenways linking preserved open space in the township.
According to McBride, most conservation easements in Union Township are created during the planning process when a large property is subdivided, in an effort to protect sensitive environmental areas, wildlife habitats, and water resources. As properties are bought and sold, the easement is recorded with the deed and transfers from owner to owner, but can sometimes get 'lost in translation' if a property changes hands frequently.
The conservation easement database and parcel map are expected to be on line next spring. UTEC volunteers will send individualized letters to each of the over 220 easement holders outlining easements which are recorded on their properties. The personalized letter will serve as a 'thank you' to easement holders, and as a reminder of their legal obligations to keep easements in a natural state. UTEC has already begun monitoring key open space parcels on a periodic basis to insure that easement areas remain undisturbed. The group hopes to acquire additional ANJEC grant funds to allow monitoring of all 220 easements in the future.