Residents of Beaufort County know that we are immensely fortunate to live in an area of unparalleled beauty, but few realize that pro-active county land conservation initiatives over the past two decades have also helped achieve quantifiable economic benefits by conserving large portions of our natural Lowcountry surroundings.
This good fortune has been due in part to a dynamic program of land protection initiatives bolstered by a growing number of concerned citizens and supported by Beaufort County Council. Together they have ensured that scenic local vistas plus other critical lands, historic and cultural assets unique to Beaufort County’s quality of life will be protected in perpetuity.
The Beaufort County Rural & Critical Lands Preservation Program, established nearly 20 years ago, has been moving forward in an effective manner under the conscientious management of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
Over this period, Beaufort County voters have approved four different bond referenda, generating $135 million to fund more than 23,000 acres of successful land protection efforts, ranging from safeguarding our endangered salt marsh ecosystem plus other initiatives to help establish permanently protected parks, historic sites and recreation areas such as Battery Creek Park, Crystal Lake, Oyster Factory Park and the historic Mitchelville Preservation Project site. Additionally, this program has contributed to the permanent protection of numerous farmlands by reducing economic incentives for farmers to sell land to residential developers.
Collectively, these efforts have not only protected the quality of life of our county in the face of continued pressure by developers to propel commercial and residential growth, but they have also provided substantial economic benefits.
Beaufort County Council was recently apprised of many of these economic benefits with the presentation of an independent study from Trust for Public Land, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.
For example, the study showed that “parks, trails and open spaces increase the value of nearby residential properties in Beaufort County because people enjoy living close to these amenities and are willing to pay for this proximity.” The report concluded that property values near these protected areas increased by $127 million, resulting in an increase of property tax revenues of $1.12 million annually.
In another example, the study revealed that these protected open space properties have delivered an estimated $27.4 million of benefit in stormwater filtration services.
The study further indicated “at least nine percent” of county visitors come primarily to visit historic sites, parks, trails and conserved open spaces and are spending “$116 annually here, generating $3.46 million in local tax revenues.”
Other economic contributions noted by the study were in areas of pollution protection, health cost savings and benefits to farming. Perhaps the most compelling economic benefit cited was the Rural & Critical Land purchase of easements around the Marine Corps Air Station and other military installations. Protected buffers have been acknowledged by many as significant to the preservation of these particular military facilities in the face of the recent Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) program, and will no doubt be important again if another round of closures takes place. The economic benefit of this alone was estimated as “$1.74 billion and a savings of approximately 14,900 jobs.”
The study by Trust for Public Land supports the premise there is significant economic value in land conservation as we consider how we in Beaufort County want to move forward and grow in the future.
Brian Flewelling of Beaufort represents District 5 on Beaufort County Council.