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Hooksett buys conservation land

The Hooksett Conservation Commission and Town Council stepped up their efforts to nail down purchases for a conservation project before the end of the year, as the looming prospect of the fiscal cliff left their buyers eager to close.

The Merrimack Riverfront Project will include of the 122 acres of undeveloped land along the Merrimack, land which the commissioners hope to use in creating a 1,000- to 2000-foot protective natural buffer on the river’s east bank, as well as a public, multi-use recreational space.

According to Hooksett Conservation Commission Chair man David Hess, the two sellers for the project, the Brown Trust and the Craig Trust, wanted to ensure that the deal closed by Dec. 31 to avoid any tax increases which might have occurred if the so-called fiscal cliff were to come to pass.

“The fiscal cliff which you’ve been hearing a lot about in all of the TV news shows in the last month has caused our two sellers to say ‘Hey, I don’t know what’s going to happen to the capital gains tax rate after Jan. 1. I want to close by Dec. 31 to ensure that any capital gains I get as result of the sale of the property (isn’t taxed at a higher rate),’” said Hess.

A capital gains tax is a tax on profit made in the sale of a “noninventory asset,” such as stocks or property. The 2003 Bush tax cuts reduced this rate to 15 percent. The fiscal cliff, the popular name for the automatic spending cuts and tax increases that would have gone into effect on Jan. 1 if the U.S. Congress had not come to an agreement on the budget laws, included the expiration of these cuts, which would have raised the capital gains tax.

In the deal reached Jan. 1, for individuals whose income is more than $400,000, and for households earning more than $450,000, the capital gains and dividends tax increases to 20 percent from 15 percent. But the true rate would be 23.8 percent once a 3.8 percent tax, created under the Affordable Care Act, is included. That tax, which is now in effect, is one of the measures Congress adopted to pay for health care reform.

According to Hess, the commission had plans to close one of the deals by Dec. 27, and was hoping to close the second on the morning of Dec. 31. The commission could not be reached by press time to confirm if the purchases had in fact ocurred on schedule.

The original purchase price released was $468,000. The Conservation Commission has been ambiguous on whether this number remains intact, refusing to quote the number again, insisting that it has not increased, and stating that it had not “necessarily” decreased.

The land will be purchased through a dedicated conservation fund, which will in turn be replenished by grant money. The commission has an excess of $310,000 excess in grants or pledges for the project, with $62,000 pending from the state Department of Environmental services.

The purchase will cover a ¾-mile stretch of land between the Hooksett Dam and the Allenstown town line, including a 2-acre island, parcels of corn field, hayfield, floodplain forest, and the former site of Head Brickyard.

A 3.5-acre parcel of abandoned railroad bed is also being donated by the Manchester Sand and Gravel Co., which the Commission plans to use in support of trails overlooking the river, as well as for providing access for swimming and paddling in the river. This deal was also set to be completed before the new year.

The land will be placed under protection through a conservation easement held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, though this will occur after the purchases as the documentation will not be ready before the new year.

The state of New Hampshire will also be granted an “executory interest,” which will allow the state to step in to ensure the easement’s enforcement should the Forest Society or the commission fail to do so.

The state is entitled to interest, due to its having contributed some of the funding for the project, including $80,500 from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), and $150,000 from the Department of Environment Services.

The commission lists a number of New Hampshire endangered species with habitats within a mile of the land, including: Blanding’s turtle, eastern hognose snake, sweet goldenrod, and golden heather. Threatened species with habitats in the area include bald eagle and wild lupine.

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