16 U.S. Code § 3865b - Agricultural land easements

(a) Availability of assistance
The Secretary shall facilitate and provide funding for—
(1) the purchase by eligible entities of agricultural land easements in eligible land; and
(2) technical assistance to provide for the conservation of natural resources pursuant to an agricultural land easement plan.
(b) Cost-share assistance
(1) In general
The Secretary shall protect the agricultural use, including grazing, and related conservation values of eligible land through cost-share assistance to eligible entities for purchasing agricultural land easements.
(2) Scope of assistance available
(A) Federal share
An agreement described in paragraph (4) shall provide for a Federal share determined by the Secretary of an amount not to exceed 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement, as determined by the Secretary using—
(i) the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice;
(ii) an areawide market analysis or survey; or
(iii) another industry-approved method.
(B) Non-federal share
(i) In general Under the agreement, the eligible entity shall provide a share that is at least equivalent to that provided by the Secretary.
(ii) Source of contribution An eligible entity may include as part of its share under clause (i) a charitable donation or qualified conservation contribution (as defined by section 170 (h) of title 26) from the private landowner if the eligible entity contributes its own cash resources in an amount that is at least 50 percent of the amount contributed by the Secretary.
(C) Exception
(i) Grasslands In the case of grassland of special environmental significance, as determined by the Secretary, the Secretary may provide an amount not to exceed 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.
(ii) Cash contribution For purposes of subparagraph (B)(ii), the Secretary may waive any portion of the eligible entity cash contribution requirement for projects of special significance, subject to an increase in the private landowner donation that is equal to the amount of the waiver, if the donation is voluntary and the property is in active agricultural production.
(3) Evaluation and ranking of applications
(A) Criteria
The Secretary shall establish evaluation and ranking criteria to maximize the benefit of Federal investment under the program.
(B) Considerations
In establishing the criteria, the Secretary shall emphasize support for—
(i) protecting agricultural uses and related conservation values of the land; and
(ii) maximizing the protection of areas devoted to agricultural use.
(C) Bidding down
If the Secretary determines that 2 or more applications for cost-share assistance are comparable in achieving the purpose of the program, the Secretary shall not assign a higher priority to any of those applications solely on the basis of lesser cost to the program.
(4) Agreements with eligible entities
(A) In general
The Secretary shall enter into agreements with eligible entities to stipulate the terms and conditions under which the eligible entity is permitted to use cost-share assistance provided under this section.
(B) Length of agreements
An agreement shall be for a term that is—
(i) in the case of an eligible entity certified under the process described in paragraph (5), a minimum of five years; and
(ii) for all other eligible entities, at least three, but not more than five years.
(C) Minimum terms and conditions
An eligible entity shall be authorized to use its own terms and conditions for agricultural land easements so long as the Secretary determines such terms and conditions—
(i) are consistent with the purposes of the program;
(ii) permit effective enforcement of the conservation purposes of such easements;
(iii) include a right of enforcement for the Secretary, that may be used only if the terms of the easement are not enforced by the holder of the easement;
(iv) subject the land in which an interest is purchased to an agricultural land easement plan that—
(I) describes the activities which promote the long-term viability of the land to meet the purposes for which the easement was acquired;
(II) requires the management of grasslands according to a grasslands management plan; and
(III) includes a conservation plan, where appropriate, and requires, at the option of the Secretary, the conversion of highly erodible cropland to less intensive uses; and
(v) include a limit on the impervious surfaces to be allowed that is consistent with the agricultural activities to be conducted.
(D) Substitution of qualified projects
An agreement shall allow, upon mutual agreement of the parties, substitution of qualified projects that are identified at the time of the proposed substitution.
(E) Effect of violation
If a violation occurs of a term or condition of an agreement under this subsection—
(i) the Secretary may terminate the agreement; and
(ii) the Secretary may require the eligible entity to refund all or part of any payments received by the entity under the program, with interest on the payments as determined appropriate by the Secretary.
(5) Certification of eligible entities
(A) Certification process
The Secretary shall establish a process under which the Secretary may—
(i) directly certify eligible entities that meet established criteria;
(ii) enter into long-term agreements with certified eligible entities; and
(iii) accept proposals for cost-share assistance for the purchase of agricultural land easements throughout the duration of such agreements.
(B) Certification criteria
In order to be certified, an eligible entity shall demonstrate to the Secretary that the entity will maintain, at a minimum, for the duration of the agreement—
(i) a plan for administering easements that is consistent with the purpose of the program;
(ii) the capacity and resources to monitor and enforce agricultural land easements; and
(iii) policies and procedures to ensure—
(I) the long-term integrity of agricultural land easements on eligible land;
(II) timely completion of acquisitions of such easements; and
(III) timely and complete evaluation and reporting to the Secretary on the use of funds provided under the program.
(C) Review and revision
(i) Review The Secretary shall conduct a review of eligible entities certified under subparagraph (A) every three years to ensure that such entities are meeting the criteria established under subparagraph (B).
(ii) Revocation If the Secretary finds that a certified eligible entity no longer meets the criteria established under subparagraph (B), the Secretary may—
(I) allow the certified eligible entity a specified period of time, at a minimum 180 days, in which to take such actions as may be necessary to meet the criteria; and
(II) revoke the certification of the eligible entity, if, after the specified period of time, the certified eligible entity does not meet such criteria.
(c) Method of enrollment
The Secretary shall enroll eligible land under this section through the use of—
(1) permanent easements; or
(2) easements for the maximum duration allowed under applicable State laws.
(d) Technical assistance
The Secretary may provide technical assistance, if requested, to assist in—
(1) compliance with the terms and conditions of easements; and
(2) implementation of an agricultural land easement plan.

Source

(Pub. L. 99–198, title XII, § 1265B, as added Pub. L. 113–79, title II, § 2301(a),Feb. 7, 2014, 128 Stat. 734.)

 

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