Money from natural gas fracking in the state's Marcellus Shale formation has been earmarked to buy conservation easements and protect streams, wetlands and other environmental features in York County's Codorus Creek watershed.
County commissioners on Wednesday approved allocating the York County Farm & Natural Lands Trust $80,000 per year for the next three years, and the money will be used to buy easements on properties identified as conservation priorities along the south and east branches of the Codorus, said Sean Kenny, executive director of the trust.
While there is no natural gas drilling in York County, all Pennsylvania counties get a share of impact fees paid from areas where there is. Under state rules, the money must be used for environmental and outdoor recreation causes, such as preservation and open space projects.
Kenny said it's fitting for some of the fees collected from drillers to be allocated to efforts that promote environmental health.
"I think it's just one of those facts of life that (companies) are up there doing things, and there's money being generated from it," he said. "If it has to be done, and it's going to be done ... the money should be going to environmental causes to offset any environmental damages that are resulting instead of just going into a general fund."
Under the agreement approved Wednesday, commissioners will contribute the money as the trust agrees on a settlement with land owners along the watershed. Kenny declined to cite specific properties, saying land owners have not yet been notified the trust would like to purchase easements on their land.
The goals: The conservation easements are similar to farmland easements, in that development is restricted on the properties, but the focus is placed on environmental distinctions. Instead of seeking land with agricultural output, the trust will value tracts that feature wetlands, streams, preserving water quality, native habitat, or their ability to create contiguous tracts of forested land, Kenny said.
The trust is hoping to preserve between five and eight properties per year for the three years, using matching funds from other organizations.
Each easement can cost between $15,000 and $20,000, and the trust will proceed through a ranking of the identified properties, Kenny said.
The cost per acre is expected to be less than the $847 the trust has paid in past years, he said, so land owners would be donating a portion of the actual value of the easements. The properties will vary in size and include anything 20 acres or larger.
The trust will start making purchases in about six months, he said.
The money: York County has received more than $700,000 from the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund since distributions started about two years ago.
York got more than $369,000 from fees paid in 2011, the first year they were collected, and $365,000 from fees paid in 2012. The allocation for 2013 will be announced later this year.
The county has used the money to contribute to projects such as the Northern Extension of the York County Heritage Rail Trail and other outdoor recreation efforts.
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