May 31, 2006 – "This has been a momentous day," Sen. Craig W. Barshinger said after senators unanimously voted to approve two universal environmental bills during an Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee meeting Wednesday.
The bills, which sailed through the committee with virtually no discussion, would: (1) allow an owner to designate an easement to a third party before selling land; and (2) create a national model for more effective land cleanup.
"Both are strong pieces of legislation," Barshinger said after the meeting. "And neither one obligates anyone to do anything – they just give two or more individuals the ability to make a meaningful agreement and make it stick."
During the meeting, he explained that one of the bills, called the Conservation Easement Act, allows property owners to sell, trade or donate a portion of their property to another individual, organization or business. "So, basically it's a deal where a person who doesn't live on your property is able to use a portion of your land. And what this bill does is make it possible for a third party to come in and enforce that deal. When someone dies, for example, no ones is left standing to make sure that agreement is maintained. This law takes care of that."
He added than any individual – or group – could be brought in as a third-party enforcer. "So they don't own the land, but they enforce the right to leave a portion of that property undisturbed," he said.
The other bill – called the Universal Environmental Covenants Act – allows for the long-term enforcement of cleanup controls on a piece of property through an "environmental covenant" between a landowner (or any other interested parties) and a cleanup agency.
Barshinger said the bill would help the government revitalize contaminated lands and bring them back to a "maximum-use level that is feasible."
The process has two steps: First, an agreement is made between groups about what kind of cleanup should be done and what restrictions should be placed on the future use of the land; second, an environmental covenant, outlining the terms of the agreement, is submitted to and recorded with a local register of deeds so that individuals thinking about buying the property later on are aware of possible contamination.
The covenants act will also work in conjunction with "brownfields" legislation, which addresses the maintenance and redevelopment of abandoned sites with various levels of contamination.
During the meeting, Barshinger explained that both bills are universal and have been drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws – an organization which creates uniform legislation for all the states and territories.
In other news, senators voted to hold in committee a bill which protects the territory's trees. Senators said the bill – which was first introduced last October – was supposed to have been amended before it came up again for consideration (See "Bill to Protect Territory's Trees Held for Review and Revisions").
Senators said they needed to hear from the bill's sponsor, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, before the measure could move forward.
Present at Wednesday's meeting were Barshinger and Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, and Norman Jn Baptiste.
Sen. Usie R. Richards was absent.
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