IW Supervisors debate Blackwater property

Published 10:46 am Saturday, June 16, 2018

Several Isle of Wight County residents spoke against a proposal to allow the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to manage a county-owned parcel of land located along the Blackwater River. The matter had been put to a public hearing on Thursday during a meeting of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors.

The property, which is located off of Broadwater Road near the county’s border with Southampton County and the town of Ivor, includes 2,507 acres of forestland, five miles of which is river frontage. The county acquired the land in 2010 with financial assistance from the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and has leased the property for the past several years to local hunt clubs.

The most recent lease was to the Isle of Wight Hunt Club on July 11, 2013, which gave the club hunting rights on the property through June 30, 2016. That lease was extended for one additional year, but again expired in mid-2017.

Were the supervisors to approve the DGIF’s request to manage the land, the site would be used for public hunting and fishing and for the development and harvesting of wildlife resources. Per the terms of the proposed 10-year agreement, the DGIF would construct three parking areas with signage displaying maps and information about the property.

First to speak on the matter was William Holleman, who owns a 65-acre parcel bordering the site. He said that allowing the DGIF to manage the Blackwater property would infringe on his family’s ability to hunt on his own land, and also raised concerns regarding safety.

“For $18, a stranger can come on this land and hunt with no restrictions,” Holleman said. “These are the type of people that hunt clubs won’t allow because they have no regards for safety and they have no regards for landowners.”

The fee to which Holleman refers is the seasonal fee the DGIF would charge the public.

Next to speak was Fred Mitchell, who spoke on behalf of the Isle of Wight Hunt Club. He said he too was concerned about the potential for hunting accidents if the property were opened up to use by the public.

“You bring all the Hampton Roads and Richmond people here to hunt, it’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” Mitchell said. “You’re going to have more people than you can handle. It’s not safe.”

He added that some people are unable to get cell phone service on the property to call for help if injured, and that the closest fire and rescue agency was several miles away.

Additional speakers opposed to the DGIF agreement were Albert Burckard and Buxton Wells Jr. Both highlighted the safety record of the Isle of Wight Hunt Club.

In favor of the DGIF agreement was Rob Wilson of Strawberry Plains Road, who disagreed that the local hunt clubs that had leased the property in the past had perfect track records.

“I live adjacent to this property, it’s not always roses and rainbows like they’d [the hunt clubs] like you to believe,” Wilson said. “I get a lot of dogs on my porch. I take care of them. If there’s a collar, I call. I’d like to support the state plan. This property was purchased for county residents, not just the group that can pay more. It’s for everyone. It was purchased with county funds and I think everybody deserves a piece of that.

“I hike. I bike. I think the citizens who have other interests should have the opportunity to use the property. The state will allow hunting to continue. No one will be excluded, including the local hunt clubs.”

Jim Adams, who is a member of a hunt club in Surry County, said he too was in favor of opening up the property to people other than just Isle of Wight County residents.

When it came time for the supervisors to discuss the matter, Windsor District representative Joel Acree said he would prefer a hunt club over the public, who may not be familiar with the land. He added that in his experience with volunteer fire and rescue, he once was sent to Ragged Island, which is a DGIF-managed site, and was tasked with evacuating a person who had been shot.

“The only way we could get that person out was with a Coast Guard helicopter,” Acree said.

Smithfield District representative Dick Grice suggested a compromise, where a hunt club could have the use of the property during hunting season and then the public or some other group could have it for the remaining months. Carrsville District representative Don Rosie and Hardy District representative Rudolph Jefferson both said they were in favor of opening the property to the public.

“When you consider the fact that the citizens have invested $1.8 million in this, to limit this to a hunt club of just 100 people or so may not be so fair,” Rosie said.

“We need to be mindful that state and federal money came from everybody, not just Isle of Wight citizens,” Jefferson said. “We cannot just limit it to Isle of Wight County. State money came from Surry. State money came from Hampton. State money came from Norfolk. I think in years to come we’re going to have to make that property available to the general public because that was the general intent from day one.”

He also said that he felt the county should have entered into a mutual aid agreement with Ivor prior to leasing the property to local hunt clubs, so that if hunting accidents were to occur, help would be nearby.

The supervisors ultimately tabled the matter for a future meeting.