SALEM, Ohio — Time is running short for landowners to sign up for a new USDA program that will offer them up to $30 million in easement payments.
The Emergency Watershed Protection Program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — the most recent economic stimulus package — will pay landowners who sign up for voluntary easements on their frequently flooded property.
By selling an easement on the property, the landowner will allow the Natural Resources Conservation Service to restore the parcel to its natural state, which will help reduce future flooding and protect water quality, according to the agency.
The landowner retains complete ownership and all rights to control public access to the land.
Any parcel of land that’s been damaged by flooding once in the past 12 months or twice in the past 10 years is eligible for application, according to Chris Coulon, a NRCS spokesperson.
Qualifying damage includes crop or structural damage caused as a direct result of flooding. The damage must be documented, either by photographs or insurance claims, according to Coulon.
The state agency will inspect and assess all parcels before they’re accepted into the program.
The floodplain easement program is part of a nationwide effort to convert environmentally sensitive lands into riparian corridors and wooded bottomlands.
By putting land back into its natural state, through planting grasses, trees or shrubs, the agency hopes to create fish and wildlife habitat and mitigate further flooding.
Restoration activity is also expected to create ‘green’ jobs statewide, specifically in the engineering, biology, and construction fields when trees and native grasses are planted and the hydrology of the floodplain is restored.
Land enrolled in a permanent easement will not be allowed to be farmed, according to Coulon.
Nationally, $145 million has been set aside for the program, with no state to receive more than $30 million, Coulon said.
Payments will be made by the acre, but no definite figure has been determined.
“If a landowner is interested, they should go ahead and apply. Once we come up with the figure, if they think it’s not enough, they can drop out,” Coulon said.
“Landowners aren’t tied into participating until they actually sign a contract,” she said.
Coulon also recommended landowners talk to their tax adviser about potential tax implications and options to manage liability when a property easement is sold.
Coulon said there’s been widespread interest in the program statewide since it was announced March 9.
Sign up for the program by March 27 at your local USDA Service Center. Landowners accepted into the program will be notified in April.
To find your local service center, visit http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app.
For more information about the program or floodplain easements, visit www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov or call 614-255-2472.