SANFORD — A project to identify and protect important natural resources in Sanford has been chosen to receive a $55,000 grant from the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environment Technology (CICEET). Town Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to support the project to develop a “Conservation and Preservation Land Use Plan” for Sanford. The project was one of only 13 across the country chosen for funding by the institute, and competition was stiff, Dr. Christine Feurt told town councilors last week. Feurt is the coastal training program coordinator at the Wells National Estuarine Re-search (NERR), the organization that spearheaded the grant proposal. Staff at the Wells Reserve, along with the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission staff, will work with town officials, local land trusts and other citizens who participate in the two-year project to develop a conservation and land use plan for Sanford. “Safford is in the heart of one of the most rapidly growing regions in the state,” Feurt wrote in the grant application. In Sanford’s Comprehensive Plan, residents repeatedly mentioned the importance of the town’s natural resources to water quality, wildlife habitat, quality of life and the character of the town. The “Goals and Policies” section of the plan, often cites natural resources, especially rivers, ponds and undeveloped rural areas for protection and conservation. Among the statements in the comprehensive plan are: “Rural Springvale will maintain its rural character. Undeveloped areas will be protected, perhaps through conservation easements…,” and “Southwest San-ford will remain predominantly rural… Important natural and scenic areas, in particular the slopes of Mount Hope, the Great Works River and the numerous ponds, will be preserved,” and regarding South Sanford, “Sensitive wetlands and waterbodies, including Bauneg Beg Pond and, El Pond, will be preserved.” The water and watershed areas are also important to the region. The project application states that”… water from San-ford’s five watersheds is less than a day’s journey from three estuaries in two states.” The headwater streams for two public drinking water sources are also located in Sanford, according to the application. The grant will provide state-of-the-art software to help participants evaluate the information as well as the impact of development — new business, housing, roads, increases in population, etc. on Sanford’s natural re-sources. “CommunityViz,” is advanced GIS (geographic information systems) software designed to help people visualize the impact of development on re-sources. The program will allow users to explore the impact of various actions well into the future, such as what undeveloped waterfront areas or forests will look like in 50 years under current zoning, and compare the results to desired goals. A steering committee will be formed when the grant comes through in September, Feurt said, to oversee and guide the project as municipal officials and citizens create a conservation land use plan for Sanford through a series workshops and discussions.