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Virginia CZM Program: 2017 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



George Mason University

Project Title:

Economic Costs and Benefits of Land Conservations and Natural Resource Protection in the Lower Chickahominy River Watershed

Project Description:

It is sometimes assumed that communities must make a choice between land and natural resource protection and economic activity and related government revenues. However, public understanding and an increasing body of professional and scientific literature suggests that preserving land can provide economic and societal benefits. The watershed area of the Lower Chickahominy River offers pristine natural landscapes, preserves historically important sites, and supports key regional industries. However, local governments in the Commonwealth of Virginia continue to struggle with demands for public services and the costs of providing those services, and thus there are recurring questions of the economic and fiscal value of preserved and/or protected lands in the LCR watershed. This project will explore these economic issues and provide data and analysis to support the mission of the Coastal Zone Management Program.

The project will focus on two key elements: 1) an economic impact analysis, and 2) a fiscal impact analysis.

The research team for this project will be led by Dr. Terry Clower (GMU) and Dr. Dean Bellas (Urban Analytics), who have a combined experience of more than 45 years in analyzing the economic policy implications of land development and urban planning in urban, suburban and rural regions of the United States.  Their research projects have included studies 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:

1/15/2018 - 9/30/2018; Project Completed

Final Product:

Socio-Economic Impacts of Conserved Land in the Lower Chickahominy River Watershed (PDF)  

Project Summary:

This project assessed the economic and fiscal impacts associated with conserved lands located in the Lower Chickahominy River Watershed (LCRW) in Charles City County, James City County, and New Kent County in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The analyses performed examined current land uses and fiscal conditions present in each county. The findings of these analyses provide a baseline of data with which local government officials, in collaboration with state agency and private sector stakeholders, can more effectively plan future land use strategies, especially those directly related to preserving natural environs and preventing environmental degradation in critical watershed areas.

Economic activity associated with businesses that directly benefit from the environmental gains of land conservation in the LCRW totaled more than $8 million in 2018, which boosted gross regional product in the three-county area by about $4.4 million and supported over 100 jobs. The benefits of land conservation also flowed to other outdoor recreation activities in the study area.

The fiscal impact of conservation easements in the three counties of the LCRW was analyzed.  Real estate tax revenues, hotel occupancy taxes, and local sales and use taxes were calculated and compared against four categories of public service expenditures: general administration; public safety; public works; and other amenities (parks, recreation and culture). Local sales and use taxes and hotel and motel taxes were included to account for spending from visitors and tourists to the LCRW region. 

For every $1.00 spent in Charles City County annually to provide public services to support land with conservation easements, revenues to Charles City County were estimated to be $1.28.  In James City County, for every $1.00 spent annually in the provision of public services to support land with conservation easements, revenues to James City County were estimated to be $1.53.  For every $1.00 spent in New Kent County annually to provide public services to support land with conservation easements, revenues to New Kent County were estimated to be $1.21.  The findings of the fiscal impact model indicate that lands with conservation easements do not place a fiscal burden on any of the three counties.

The findings of this project can be found in the report titled: Socio-Economic Impacts of Conserved Land in the Lower Chickahominy River Watershed. The report was prepared under direction of Dr. Terry Clower at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University in collaboration with Dr. Dean Bellas of Urban Analytics, Inc.

The report will be available on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Coastal Zone Management website. The findings will be presented at relevant professional and academic 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 or










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

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