Monday, April 16, 2012


A free workshop for landowners, local officials and the public is being held on Saturday, April 21 at 10:00 am at the Harwich Community Center to describe new tax benefits available for anyone who owns land in Massachusetts, whether they live here or pay taxes here or not.

Starting late in 2011, for the first time ever, landowners who engage in conservation transactions with non-profit land trusts, towns or agencies can be eligible for a powerful new tax advantage—a refundable State income tax credit worth up to $50,000.  This should be exciting news for landowners.  While there have always been income tax deductions available for land gifts on a donor’s federal returns, there have never been any incentives on the State tax side.  Now there are both. 

The workshop is being conducted by The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Inc., a regional non-profit advising towns and conservation groups on the Cape since 1986.  Land trusts in Harwich, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans are co-sponsors.  Staff of The Compact, which has successfully coordinated the first six tax credit applications from the Cape, will present the program and be available for private, free consultations with landowners afterwards.  Compact staff will also have maps available to give any interested landowners a preliminary analysis of their property’s eligibility for the state tax credit.

The Commonwealth has provided guidelines on how the program will work. The type of transaction (land gift, conservation restriction, bargain sale, reserved life estate) is less important than the characteristics of the land itself, so long as the land is permanently protected.  The office of Energy and Environmental Affairs must certify that the land to be preserved is significant to protect drinking water supplies, rare species and other wildlife habitats, agriculture or forestry, recreational opportunities and scenic or cultural values of state or regional importance.  While those themes are fairly broad, you can see how a gift of a vacant lot in a subdivision might not qualify.  Still, Cape Cod is still blessed with many resource protection parcels that have been neither yet developed nor preserved that could qualify.

The landowner must have the land pre-certified by the State (The Compact can help do the paperwork) before the gift or bargain sale is completed.  An appraisal is needed to justify that the land’s market value and establish the credit amount.  The title to the land must be clear.  The State will refund any unused credit in the first year of the gift.  That means that not only would your State income tax be wiped out for that year, but the State will issue you a check for the difference between that year’s tax and $50,000 or 50 percent of the appraised value, whichever is less.  For example, if you donate a parcel worth $30,000, your tax credit would be $15,000.  If your Mass. income tax is $5,000, you would pay no state tax and get a tax refund for the remaining $10,000.

If you donate a conservation restriction appraised at $120,000, your tax credit would be the maximum $50,000.  If your Mass. income tax is $10,000, you would pay no state tax and get a check for the $40,000 difference.  (The total of tax credit and refund check cannot exceed $50,000.)  You do not need to reside in Massachusetts or even pay taxes here; so long as you own the land, and the land qualifies, you qualify.  The State approved the first 22 applications in December, returning $976,000 in credits to landowners, including six on the Cape.  A full $2 million is available statewide in 2012.

Remember that this new tax credit is in addition to the regular federal income tax incentives for charitable contributions of land or interests therein.  The Compact can be contacted for more details or a free, confidential consultation.

(prepared April 2012 by Mark H. Robinson, Executive Director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Inc., and, Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Take a Hike
Spring Marsh Islands
Sunday, April 15 at 2:00 p.m.

by John Cullity

Of the ten or eleven walks led by the Sandwich Conservation Trust, there is one where a tide chart is critical – a visit to the three islands in Spring Hill Marsh, a peaceful, wide-open place.  I can always count on SCT Vice President Joe Queenan to provide the tide information – he’s a boater who lives near Scorton Creek.  He has determined that on this coming Sunday April 15th, the low afternoon tide should enable us to comfortably cross the ancient, worn dike leading out to Great Island, and hike the island’s edge.

Great Island is probably eight or nine acres in size, and quite irregular in shape - the five or so coves add greatly to its visual charms.  A trail runs the length of the island, which is owned by the Town of Sandwich, the Thornton Burgess Society, and private owners, but the 250 foot dike and adjacent marsh is owned by the SCT, a bequest of the late Dr. Shirley Cross of Spring Hill.  This was once wide enough to accommodate oxen and farm vehicles.  It is a reasonable guess that in the 17th century firewood and timber were removed first, then, for two-and-half centuries or so it was mowed for the hay, or pastured.  Pitch pine is now the predominant tree, with some oak.

Pine Island, to the west, is between two and three acres in size, and is also a pine-oak forest.  The Burgess Society owns the west side, a gift of Gifford Foster, and the SCT owns the eastern portion, a gift of Judith and Malcolm Reiss.  Gifford’s father was the renowned John Foster (1853-1935), a ballroom dance teacher who did very well, and built a large, unusual house up on the west end of Spring Hill.  Spring Hill farmer Huck King (1906-1976) once told me that John Foster, as a bit of a novelty, once had his portion of Pine Island plowed up and planted to beans, and jokingly referred to it as Bean Island.  I believe he also called it Frank’s Island, in honor of his close pal Frank Wing.

Little Island, about 100 feet in diameter, lies to the north of Great Island, and has a mixture of only those tough, scrubby trees and shrubs that can survive in such a marginal environment – bayberry, blueberry, poison ivy, maybe a red cedar or two.  This island we regard from a distance, as it takes some creek jumping to get out there.  Years ago it was a premium spot for duck hunters.  Half of this island and seven acres of marsh was donated to the SCT in 1993 by Kenneth and Dorothea Luce.

Trusting that Joe is correct with his tide data, let’s hope for a pleasant day, and take the walk.  From Route 6A, take Great Island Road in a few hundred feet, cross the railroad, and turn right into the entrance to the Toolas Preserve where there is a field for parking.  We will begin at 2 PM, and please take note that although not leafed out yet, there are some poison ivy shoots to the side of the Great Island path.  Ticks are also a possibility.  The walk will last an hour or so.

For questions about the walk or the Sandwich Conservation Trust, call me at (508) 888-7629.