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Virginia CZM Program: 2014 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

CZM logoProject Task Number:



George Mason University

Project Title:

Socio-Economic Impacts of Conserved Land on Virginia's Eastern Shore

Project Description:

The need and desire to preserve the environment and maintain an on-going program of land conservation principles and practices in Virginia while at the same time attaining economic sustainability and feasibility is a delicate balancing act.  The Eastern Shore of Virginia has both a national and international reputation as a region that contains some of the most beautiful and pristine land in the United States.  However, as the Background section of the Virginia CZM Program RFP succinctly states, local governments within the Eastern Shore have and continue to struggle with balancing their local budgets.  Thus, the need to conduct research into the better understanding of how land conservation programs and practices in Virginia’s Eastern Shore have an effect on local economic conditions and conducting an economic and fiscal analysis to measure and quantify the impact of conservation land on the “bottom-line” of the budgets of these local governments is both very timely and much needed.


A detailed examination of relevant information is proposed here to provide the framework for the high level of knowledge that the GMU/UAI team brings to this assignment.  The results of our work would be based on this combination of factual evidence, our existing knowledge of the economic conditions and forces operating in Virginia, and our extensive experience in the research and analysis of land economics, public policy, urban and regional planning, and financial feasibility modeling.  Together both Dr. Clower and Dr. Bellas have over 45 years of experience in analyzing the economic policy implications of land development and urban planning in urban, suburban and rural regions of the United States.  Dr. Clower and Dr. Bellas combined have provided consulting services in 18 states plus the District of Columbia (Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin).

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Dr. Terry Clower; 703.993.8419;

Project Status:

September 15, 2016 - March 31, 2017; Project Completed

Final Product:

Socio-Economic Impacts of Conserved Land on Virginia's Eastern Shore Final Report (pdf)

Project Summary:

Download a FACT SHEET on the Eastern Shore Economics of Conserved Lands Study (pdf)

The primary objective of this report is to provide decision makers at the State of Virginia, Accomack County, and Northampton County with a high-level analysis of the fiscal and economic impacts of conserved land on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  The findings shown in this report are based on existing land-use and fiscal conditions in each county as of fiscal year end 2016.  The results of this analysis provide a fiscal baseline against which any future development policy, strategy, plan, or project approval can be tested.  Consequently, the fiscal baseline that is reported herein provides local government officials and others involved in the land conservation and economic development process in both Accomack and Northampton counties the starting point for asking and deriving answers to critical questions about the future of land acquisition and conservation in each county.

The economic impact analysis considered three sources of economic activity related to conserved lands: organizations involved in land conservation including non-profit conservation organizations, park operations, and eco-tourism operators who would not locate on the Eastern Shore but for the presence of conserved lands; aquaculture industries supported by improved water quality that can be, at least in part, attributable to land conservation; and tourism that is specifically focused on outdoor recreation. The economic activity associated with organizations involved in land conservation on the Eastern Shore generated $21.88 million in economic activity in 2016. Economic activity associated with aquaculture industries boosted Eastern Shore economic activity by $156.7 million. Tourism spending associated with conserved land created $51.38 million in economic activity for 2016.

The fiscal impact analysis conducted in this study found that total real property taxes paid to Accomack County, Virginia in 2016 from land with conservation easements is estimated to be $303,653; and total real property taxes paid to Northampton County, Virginia in 2016 from land with conservation easements is estimated to be $322,694. Estimated real property taxes foregone reflects the “lost” tax revenue to each county as land with a conservation easement has a lower use-value tax assessment recorded on the books of each county.  Foregone real estate tax revenues were estimated to be $79,095 in Accomack County and $283,611 in Northampton County in 2016.

To estimate the fiscal impacts of conservation easements in both counties, the study assessed revenues from real estate taxes, local sales and uses taxes, and hotel and motel taxes compared against public service expenditures for general government administration; public safety; public works; and parks, recreation and culture. For every $1.00 spent in Accomack County annually to provide public services to support land with conservation easements, revenues to Accomack County were estimated to be $2.38.  In Northampton County, for every $1.00 spent annually in the provision of public services to support land with conservation easements, revenues to Northampton County were estimated to be $1.15.  The findings of the fiscal impact model indicate that lands with conservation easements do not place a fiscal burden on either county.

The report is available for download at

The information and data developed in this report will be distributed in report form, in an executive summary briefing paper, and an infographic summarizing the research findings. Presentations of this research will be presented to county boards and at professional conferences.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to


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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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