Blackwater River plan gets good reviews

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 23, 2007

FRANKLIN—Designating a portion of the Blackwater River as a State Scenic River could help with conservation efforts, both on the river and on property adjacent to it, government leaders learned Tuesday.

Unlike some other conservation programs, this one would pose little risk to property owners, whose rights would not be restricted and who would not be threatened with government takings by eminent domain.

In an unusual joint meeting between the Isle of Wight and Southampton boards of supervisors at the Paul D. Camp Regional Workforce Development Center, representatives from two different state agencies discussed the potential benefits of the program.

With the possibility of enhanced environmental protections at no cost to landowners, leaders from both counties were receptive to the program.

Even landowners who attended the presentation seemed sold on its merits.

&uot;At first blush, this sounds like a wonderful idea,&uot; said Leland Beale, who owns a significant amount of land on both sides of the Blackwater. &uot;I haven’t been able to find anything wrong with (the program) so far.&uot;

Supervisors were similarly impressed, and Isle of Wight’s board voted to have its staff coordinate with Southampton representatives to develop a recommendation that could be presented to both boards.

Southampton supervisors did not vote on the matter Tuesday night, but Chairman Dallas O. Jones expressed his support. &uot;This is a win-win situation for Southampton County.&uot;

Lynn Crump, a landscape architect for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which administers the Scenic Rivers program, described the program and its history to supervisors and then explained the steps needed to secure the designation.

Currently 22 river segments comprising more than 500 miles are part of the 37-year-old program, she said.

A portion of the upper Nottoway has been designated a Scenic River, and Brunswick County’s portion of the Meherrin earned the designation two years ago.

Although the title can enhance opportunities for conservation funding for adjacent property, Crump said, taking advantage of those opportunities is voluntary and would result only from the landowner’s interest in conservation.

The Scenic Rivers program, she said, does not authorize condemnations, impose land use controls, affect the rights of landowners, allow public use of private property, enact federal controls or promote recreational use.

In fact, Crump said, her department does not even include Scenic River designations on any of the maps it distributes.

Nonetheless, supervisors seemed interested in getting a bigger piece of the growing eco-tourism market that was highlighted by Stephen Living of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Living, whose job as a VDGIF &uot;watchable wildlife biologist&uot; is to promote wildlife viewing and habitat conservation, said the Blackwater is &uot;a great and very diverse resource&uot; for people hoping to catch a glimpse of Virginia’s animal species.

The river is home to at least 347 different confirmed or expected species, not including insects. Among those are four that are considered endangered by the state or federal government and seven that are considered threatened.

That diversity means the river has excellent potential for angling, hunting, paddling and wildlife observation, he said. In fact, the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail intersects it in two locations.

If the counties’ staff members return to their boards with a recommendation to pursue the Scenic River designation, those boards could ask the Department of Conservation and Recreation to evaluate the river and prepare a report for the Virginia Scenic River Board and local governing bodies.

If those bodies still desire then to seek the designation, they would then appeal to their local members of the General Assembly to introduce the necessary legislation, which would need the governor’s signature, once passed.