Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust

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04/17/08 - Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust Wins Chafee Award

The Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust will receive the Senator John H. Chafee Conservation Leadership Award from the Environment Council of Rhode Island at a reception and dinner on Friday, May 9, at the Marriot Hotel in Providence. The Chafee Award is presented annually to organizations that complete outstanding conservation projects in Rhode Island. U.S. Attorney Zechariah Chafee will present the awards at this year’s ceremony, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will be the guest speaker. Members of the Trust and landowners who have conserved their property this year will attend on behalf of the Trust.

The Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust was established by the voters at the 1986 Financial Town Meeting to preserve farmland and open space within the Town of Little Compton. In the past year, the Trust and its partners protected a record 325 acres of farmland and open space, increasing the Trust’s holdings by 25%. Without protection, these acres could one day have become the site for over 160 new single-family houses. “The patience of landowners seeking to protect their property from development, and their commitment to preserving the town’s agricultural economy and scenic beauty, were the foundation for this year’s success,” said George Mason, chairman of the Trust.

Both large and small conservation projects were part of the Trust’s efforts this past year. Ninety-four acres of the Sakonnet Vineyards, one of Little Compton’s most beautiful and productive agricultural properties, will be forever committed to farming, thanks to the foresight of owners Susan and Earl Samson. This acreage is also critical watershed for both the Watson Reservoir and for Dundery Brook, which replenishes Little Compton wells. Its preservation includes a component of public access a minimum of four times per year.

Several of the properties preserved this year have been farmed for generations by the same family. Their protection helps to ensure that farming, which constitutes just over 14% of Rhode Island employment, will forever remain part of Little Compton’s identity. They include

  • Treaty Rock Farm, which has been in the Richmond family for over 350 years. Its conservation values range from scenic and agricultural to ecological and historic, and its protection has been a project in the works for years and a high priority at both the state and local level. Owners Josie Richmond, Helen Richmond Webb, and Lawre Goodnow, have ensured that 95 acres of their working farm will remain forever in agricultural use by selling its development rights to the Ag Trust and The Nature Conservancy for a price considerably below their market value.
  • Albert and Mary Jane Peckham, whose land has been farmed by five generations of the same family. The Peckhams sold 28 acres of their land to the Trust last year, which intends to make some of the acreage publicly accessible while retaining its agricultural use.
  • George and Karen Goulart, whose land has been worked by Goularts for almost 100 years. The Trust purchased the development rights to 19 acres of the Goulart property, which is currently home to nursery stock.

Other properties protected this year by the Trust and its partners will help to replenish the town’s limited water supply, an area identified of great concern to area residents. "Little Compton residents depend on their wells for water, and these wells depend on ample groundwater, which is often stored in wetlands until it’s needed," observed Pat Hagan, a member of the Trust. A case in point is the 59-acre Bodington property on Simmons Road, home to freshwater wetlands in addition to upland buildable property. "Sometimes people mistakenly think that protecting wetlands is useless because they can’t be built upon. Little Compton wetlands are actually critical water storage areas, and with improving technology, they could also someday be house lots. Protecting them serves a dual purpose," Hagan commented.

The development rights to two Little Compton properties were donated by the landowners in 2007, and both contribute to the scenic vistas along the Sakonnet River. Phillip Harper’s 9.4 acres off West Main Road also provide open meadows for migrating birds, while the 2 acres protected by Mrs. and Mrs. George W. Bullock Jr. on Bailey’s Ledge expand the waterfront view for those passing both on land and on water.

Little Compton’s real estate transfer tax is used by the Trust to leverage funding from a variety of public and private sources to complete projects. "The Trust’s income does not even come close to covering projects like the Sakonnet Vineyards," said Bill Richmond, the Trust’s vice-chairman. "But it’s the critical financial foundation we use to leverage matching funds and other grants that make these projects possible."

Principal sponsor for the Chafee Awards event is Toyota of Newport. Senior sponsors are Johnson & Wales University and Sovereign Bank. Individual tickets for the 5:15 p.m. reception and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. dinner at $60, and a table for 8 is $480. For more information, visit www.environmentcouncilri.org.

For more information, contact George Mason, Chairman of the LCACT at work 458-5143, cell 258-3998 or home 635-4870.