Group asks IOW to help preserve wetlands

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ISLE OF WIGHT—A conservation group is urging the county to help protect 2,507 acres, including 5 1/2 miles along the Blackwater River and 500 acres of wetlands.

“This is an opportunity to protect a unique tract of land,” Brian Van Eerden, the Southern Rivers Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Virginia, told the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors on Thursday. “It’s an arc of biological diversity.”

Van Eerden said there are several forested areas on the parcel containing large, old trees, including longleaf pine. He said similarly sized trees directly across the river in Southampton County were cored and determined to be 800 years old.

“This is one of the few areas where the forests resemble what they looked like when Jamestown was founded,” Van Eerden said. “This property is a tremendous opportunity for the county.”

According to Van Eerden, the property is located in Isle of Wight County, in the Carrsville District, between Proctor’s Bridge Road in the north and Broadwater Road to the south. The total acreage is split among nine parcels currently owned by Conservation Forestry LLC, an investment organization based in Exeter, N.H.

Conservation Forestry purchased the land from International Paper Co. in 2006.

Van Eerden told the supervisors that The Nature Conservancy, on behalf of the county, has secured $640,000 in grant money toward acquiring the property. Those grants were received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Additional grant money is being sought from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources.

Van Eerden added that the depressed real estate market provides a special opportunity for the county to acquire the land. He said the property was appraised at $1,109 an acre, down from the $1,360 per acre it was appraised at in 2007.

Although the supervisors ultimately voted to postpone a decision until Aug. 20, there was some support for the county purchasing the land.

“This is very important,” said Carrsville District Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw. “We definitely need to pursue this. We have an opportunity that will not come again.”

The property fronts a 56-mile section of the Blackwater River that four municipalities — Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, and the cities of Franklin and Suffolk — are urging the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to designate as a state scenic river. The section begins at Proctor’s Bridge Road and runs south to the Blackwater’s confluence with the Nottoway River, located just above the North Carolina state line.

If approved, the Blackwater would be the largest single stretch of river to ever be designated a Virginia Scenic River at once.

In March, Nature Conservancy and Conservation Forestry LLC reached an agreement to preserve 416 acres of forest and 3.3 miles of Blackwater riverfront in Southampton County. That property, which also once belonged to IP and is located in the southeast corner of the county, was purchased for $416,000.

DCR has designated the Southampton land as part of the state’s Natural Area Preserve system.