1468.26 Eligible entity certification.§ 1468.26 Eligible entity certification.
(a) To be considered for certification, an entity must submit a written request for certification to NRCS, which specifically addresses the items in paragraphs (a)(1) through (7) of this section:
(1) An explanation of how the entity meets the requirements identified in § 1468.20(b) of this section;
(2) An agreement to use for ACEP-ALE funded acquisitions easement valuation methodologies identified in section § 1468.24 of this part;
(3) A showing of a demonstrated record of completing acquisition of easements in a timely fashion;
(4) A showing that it has the capacity to monitor and enforce the provisions of easement deeds and history of such monitoring and enforcement;
(5) A plan for administering easements enrolled under this part, as determined by NRCS;
(6) Proof that the eligible entity -
(i) Has been accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission and has acquired not fewer than 10 agricultural land easements under ACEP-ALE, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, or the Farmland Protection Program;
(ii) Is a State department of agriculture or other State agency with statutory authority for farm and ranchland protection and has acquired not fewer than 10 agricultural land easements under ACEP-ALE or its predecessor programs; or
(iii) Holds, manages, and monitors a minimum of 25 agricultural land conservation easements, of which a minimum of 10 of these easements are agricultural land easements under ACEP-ALE or its predecessor programs, and if the eligible entity is a nongovernmental organization, provides evidence that the eligible entity possesses a dedicated fund for the purposes of managing, monitoring, and enforcing each easement held by the eligible entity; and
(7) Successfully met the responsibilities of the eligible entity under the applicable agreements with NRCS, as determined by NRCS, relating to agricultural land easements that the eligible entity has acquired under the program or any predecessor program;
(b) NRCS will notify an eligible entity in writing whether they have been certified and the rationale for the agency's decision. When NRCS determines an eligible entity qualifies as certified -
(1) NRCS may enter into an ALE-agreement with the certified entity that is for a period of a minimum of 5 fiscal years and not to exceed 7 fiscal years following the fiscal year the agreement is executed. NRCS will review and select parcel applications submitted for funding by certified entities as specified in § 1468.22. Funding for selected parcels is identified on an attachment to the ALE-agreement.
(2) The terms of the ALE-agreement will include the regulatory deed requirements specified in § 1468.25 of this part that must be addressed in the deed to ensure that ACEP-ALE purposes will be met without requiring NRCS to pre-approve each easement transaction prior to closing.
(i) Certified entities may purchase easements without NRCS approving the agricultural land easement deeds, baseline reports, titles, or appraisals before the purchase of the easement;
(ii) Certified entities will prepare the agricultural land easement deeds, baseline reports, titles, and appraisals in accordance with NRCS requirements as identified in the ALE-agreement;
(3) NRCS will conduct quality assurance reviews of a percentage of the closed agricultural land easement transactions and annual monitoring reports submitted by the certified entity; and
(4) NRCS will provide the certified entity an opportunity to correct errors or remedy deficiencies identified in the NRCS quality assurance review. If the certified entity fails to remedy the identified items to NRCS's satisfaction, NRCS will consider whether to allow the certified entity to continue to purchase ALE-funded easements without prior NRCS approval, to decertify the entity in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section, or, require the certified entity to take administrative steps necessary to remedy the deficiencies.
(c)(1) NRCS will conduct a quality assurance review of the certified entity a minimum of once every 3 fiscal years to ensure that the certified entities are meeting the certification criteria established in this section.
(2) If NRCS determines that the certified entity no longer meets these criteria, the Chief will -
(i) Provide the certified entity a specified period of time, at a minimum 180 days, in which to take such actions as may be necessary to correct the identified deficiencies, and
(ii) If NRCS determines the certified entity does not meet the criteria established in this part after the 180 days, NRCS will send written notice of decertification. This notice will specify the actions that have not been completed to retain certification status, the actions the entity must take to regain certification status, the status of funds in the ALE-agreement; and the eligibility of the entity to apply for future ACEP-ALE funds. The entity may contest the notice of decertification in writing to NRCS within 20 calendar days of receipt of the notice of decertification. The entity's letter must provide specific reasons why the decision to decertify is in error.
(3) The period of decertification may be up to 3 years, based upon the circumstances associated with the action.
(4) The entity may submit a new request for certification to NRCS only after the decertification period has expired.[85 FR 571, Jan. 6, 2020, as amended at 86 FR 8131, Feb. 4, 2021]