Q1 2016 Newsletter

Q1 2016 Newsletter

Message from VIRGINIAforever Chairman Dennis Treacy

Friends and supporters,

The first few months of 2016 have been a busy and exciting time. Throughout the 2016 Virginia General Assembly session, VIRGINIAforever members and lobbyists put forth considerable effort to advocate for funding for land conservation and water quality improvement projects. I am pleased to say that we had a number of key successes, which you’ll read about in the legislative update below. I want to thank everyone for their steadfast support in talking with budget decision makers about the need for state funds for natural resources.

We are a coalition – meaning many voices – and we could not have accomplished this without the support of diverse parties coming together for an important cause. As we move into the “off-season,” VIRGINIAforever will not sit idle. Over the next few months, we will begin to shift to identifying budget short-falls and potential challenges and laying the groundwork for the 2017 session by meeting with members of the administration and budget decision makers. Furthermore, VIRGINIAforever is not simply a lobbying group. Throughout the year, we are involved in activities that aim to raise our profile among the environmental community and spread the word about the importance of state funds for natural resources. The newly-formed Virginia Outdoor Recreation Caucus is an example of our involvement within the natural resource community, and we hope to continue our involvement in activities that bring legislators and outdoor enthusiasts together.

With the weather turning warm, I encourage you to take advantage of getting outdoors and enjoying Virginia’s natural resources that we work year-round to protect.



Legislative Update – Water Quality, Land Conservation and Parks: Big Wins in 2016 General Assembly

VIRGINIAforever successfully pushed for more than $200 million in new funds

The 2016 General Assembly convened on January 13 and adjourned on March 11. The biggest issues facing legislators were crafting a new two-year state budget and preparing a record-setting $2.1 billion bond. And it was in these two actions where VIRGINIAforever focused its efforts to obtain new investments in water quality and land conservation.

In all, VIRGINIAforever worked in conjunction with others in the business and environmental community and successfully lobbied for more than $200 million in water quality, land conservation and state parks investments.

Water Quality

VIRGINIAforever worked diligently to secure new water quality funding for wastewater treatment plants, stormwater and agricultural BMPs. In each of these sectors, we were successful.

  • For wastewater treatment plants, the Commonwealth has long partnered with local governments to invest in new pollution-reduction equipment for locally-owned treatment facilities. Many years ago, the General Assembly established the Water Quality Improvement Fund (WQIF) for this purpose. This year, Governor McAuliffe proposed $59 million in bonds for WQIF so that the Department of Environmental Quality could fund its part of certain locally-owned wastewater treatment plants.VIRGINIAforever supported the Governor’s $59 million WQIF proposal. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee also agreed with it. The final budget included $59 million for the WQIF.
  • For stormwater infrastrucutre, the Commonwealth has partnered with local governments since 2013 to share costs for critical stormwater infrastructure projects. The General Assembly established the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), a competitive grant program, for this purpose. This year, the General Assembly – after much lobbying by VIRGINIAforever – included $20 million in bonds for SLAF. The Department of Environmental Quality manages SLAF, and it will now be able to conduct in 2016 (and maybe 2017) one or more competitive grant rounds.VIRGINIAforever supported at least $20 million being included for SLAF. The House and Senate budget-writers agreed, and the final budget included this amount for SLAF.
  • For agricultural BMPs, the Commonwealth has long partnered with Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), local farmers and others in the agricultural community to share costs of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) designed to reduce agricultural runoff from animal operations and crop lands. For SWCDs, the State provides operational and technical support so that they may advise local governments, farmers and other landowners in conserving soil resources, controlling erosion and preventing flooding. For agricultural landowners and operators, the State provides cost-share funds for such BMPs including nutrient management plans, riparian buffers, fencing cows from streams and winter cover crops, among others.Governor McAuliffe recommended to the General Assembly that the budget include $61.7 million for agricultural BMP funding. VIRGINIAforever lobbied the House and Senate budget committees to support the Governor’s recommendation. The final budget included $61.7 million for various agricultural BMP funds. This represents the largest deposit ever into WQIF for agricultural BMPs.

Land Conservation

The Commonwealth has a publicly-funded land conservation program that many states envy, with its key components being the Land Preservation Tax Credit and the Virginia Land Conservation Fund (VLCF). The General Assembly established the VLCF in 1999.

This year, Governor McAuliffe recommended a record amount – $40 million – for VLCF, which, by law, is earmarked via percentages to preserve open-space lands and parks, natural areas, farmlands and historic lands and battlefields.

VIRGINIAforever lobbied the House and Senate to support the Governor’s recommendation. In the end, the final budget contained $20 million over the biennium for land preservation. Broken down, in each year of the biennium, VLCF will receive $8 million, and $1 million is appropriated for battlefield preservation and $1 million for farmland preservation.

State Parks

VIRGINIAforever joined with the Virginia Association for Parks and other park advocates to support significant new investment in our award-winning state park system.

Governor McAuliffe proposed some $140 million in bonds to support new infrastructure for state parks, including early development phases of Biscuit Run State Park (Albemarle County) and Widewater State Park (Stafford County).

The House and Senate budget-writers debated extensively the amount of park investments. In the end, the final state budget includes approximately $41 million in bonds for new infrastructure, including early development of Widewater State Park.


VIRGINIAforever News

Statewide polling data demonstrates public support for land and water investments

In 2015, VIRGINIAforever contributed funds to conduct a statewide survey in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The polling data was released at the end of January and was covered by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in an article titled “Clarkson: Conservation and clean water highly supported by Virginians.” Key findings of the poll included:

  • Virginia voters recognize clean water and conservation projects as top funding priorities for the Virginia General Assembly. By nearly a 4 to 1 ratio (78% to 20%), over three-quarters agree that “even when the state budget is tight, investing in clean water and the conservation of Virginia’s natural areas and parks should be a top priority.”
  • A plurality of Virginia voters (43% to 41%) would support $500 million in bond funding for natural areas and parks (16% are undecided) and a majority (52% to 34%) would support $250 million (14% are undecided).
  • The survey results clearly illustrate that Virginia voters strongly support including projects that protect water quality. By greater than a 3 to 1 margin (72% to 20%), close to three-quarters would support funding projects to improve the water quality of Virginia’s lakes, rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Voters understand the economic benefits of investing in water and conservation projects. By an 8 to 1 ratio (88% to 11%), an overwhelming majority agrees that “investing in clean water and the conservation of natural areas and parks is important to Virginia’s economy.” This strong sentiment sweeps across all voter demographics, including Republicans (89%), Democrats (93%) and Independents (82%).
  • Among a list of conservation and recreation projects, an overwhelming majority believes it is important for Virginia to invest in projects related to clean drinking water (96%), water quality of rivers and streams (94%), the Chesapeake Bay (91%), fish and wildlife habitat (89%), forests (88%), beaches and shoreline (88%), state parks (88%) and natural areas (87%).


VIRGINIAforever hosts legislative reception

VIRGINIAforever hosted its annual legislative reception at Rappahannock Restaurant in Richmond on February 2.  A number of General Assembly members and other elected and appointed officials attended. VIRGINIAforever chairman Dennis Treacy introduced Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, who made remarks highlighting the abundance of natural resources in Virginia and the importance that the state plays in protecting the Commonwealth’s land and waterways.


VIRGINIAforever chairman pens letter to the editor

As part of VIRGINIAforever’s comprehensive advocacy efforts, VIRGINIAforever chairman Dennis Treacy authored a letter to the editor that was printed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The letter encouraged General Assembly members to give strong consideration to state investments in water quality improvements and land conservation. Read the letter here.