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Nikki Nielson '12 spent her summer researching conservation easements along the Hudson River corridor thanks to a Tibor T. Polgar Fellowship, which annually provides financial support for up to eight graduate and undergraduate students to conduct research on and about the river and adjacent land.
She presented her findings to representatives of the Hudson River Foundation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the two entities who administer the fellowship, at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in August.
"There are more than 30 land trusts holding property interests as conservation easements and in fee simple along the Hudson River, stretching from the New York Harbor to the Troy Dam," explained Nielson, who founded a grant writing and project management firm in New Paltz, N.Y., prior to enrolling at Albany Law.
Many historic properties along the Hudson River - estates of industrialists, religious retreats and agricultural lands - have been converted over the years from private ownership into a mixture of public, private and quasi-public ownership. One of these conversion mechanisms has been for the landowner to grant conservation easements to restrict development of their property.
However, there has been a lack of consistent information about the implementation of conservation easements, as well as some confusion as to the legal implications of such a designation. Nielson surveyed the quantity and types of easements along the Hudson River, analyzed existing case law and legal research on the topic and developed analysis and recommendations for future implementation.
She is in the process of finalizing a paper based on her work, which will be published by the Hudson River Foundation in early 2011.
"There are tens of thousands of acres along the Hudson and within its watershed that are restricted by conservation easements for a variety of reasons that support environment and habitat, viewshed and agriculture. The organizations that manage these conservation easements probably will change over time," Nielson said. "I wanted my work to answer the question, ‘how can we consistently handle this type of property interest through the intended period of perpetuity?'"
"Ultimately, I'm glad that I pursued the research. There are significant issues specific to conservation easements and the land trusts that hold the easements in the Hudson Valley. I also had the chance to meet a number of interesting people who are truly passionate about understanding how to preserve the Hudson River for future generations," she said. The research has generated a series of new questions and policy considerations.
Professor Keith Hirokawa, who taught Nielson's Property class last school year, acted as her advisor during the fellowship. "He's the one who encouraged me to apply," she recalled.
This semester, Nielson is working on a pro bono basis with the New York State Education Department's Office of Innovative School Models to research legal aspects of school accountability and charter school authorization.
Nielson began her professional career as a teacher in the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, Calif. She moved to the Hudson Valley in 2001 and took a position developing grants and managing projects for municipalities and regional organizations.
She launched her own firm, Arcady Solutions, in 2008, where she provided writing, research, needs assessments, project development, fundraising and project management services for organizations in the fields of economic development, environmental sustainability through the protection of open space and educational equity.
Nielson, who lives in New Paltz with her husband and their daughter, holds a B.S. from the University of Rochester, and a M.A. from Teacher's College, Columbia University, in politics and education.