Board tables decision on Blackwater bids

Published 6:38 pm Friday, July 19, 2019


Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Thursday to postpone accepting any bids from hunt clubs for use of a county-owned parcel of land along the Blackwater River. The board chose to table the matter — at least until its August meeting — after Parks and Recreation Director David Smith expressed doubts about his department’s ability to implement the county’s plan for the property by the start of this year’s hunting season.

In March, Smith had presented the Board with the recommendations of the county’s Blackwater Task Force, an advisory group the Board had formed last year after rejecting a proposal by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to take over management of the property. The site is located off of Broadwater Road (State Route 620) near the county’s border with Southampton County, and includes 2,507 acres of forestland, 5 miles of which is river frontage.

The task force had recommended that the county issue requests for proposals for leasing the northern and southern tracts of the land to hunt clubs, similar to what it had done in the past, with the caveat that this new lease would only be for the seven weeks of hunting season from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31. Each hunt club would receive exclusive rights to hunt on its tract of land on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but in turn, would be required to take responsibility for maintaining the trails, roads and open/close gates for the entire year. This lease also would remove the requirement the county had imposed in the past, mandating that at least 51 percent of the club’s membership be Isle of Wight residents.

According to Smith, the county received three responses to its request for proposals, two of which were for the northern tract and one of which was for the southern tract. The problem, he explained, lies with the county’s readiness to open the property to the public on days not reserved for the hunt clubs.

“The biggest part of the challenge we have right now is the permitting process for those other than hunters,” Smith said.

The task force’s plan, as presented in March, had been to offer individual hunting permits for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the Oct. 1-Jan. 31 hunting season, and for all days of the week except Sundays during the five weeks of turkey season, which is from the second week in April through the third week in May. Sundays were to be reserved for non-hunting activities — including fishing, biking, paddling on the river, horseback riding, primitive camping and viewing birds, wildlife and rare plants — even during hunting seasons. Individual permits for hunting or non-hunting activities would cost $35 per person for county residents and $100 per person for non-residents.

Smith explained that his department had requested funding during the county’s 2019-2020 budget process for a new software package to handle the permitting process — and had been granted said funding — but was still waiting for that software to be installed. He added that the county was in the process of upgrading its website, and that there was a possibility the contractor handling the upgrade could also set up the permitting software for less money than it would cost Parks and Recreation to solicit bids for the software as a separate project.

“Can we implement [the permitting] by hunting season? Yes, but it would be much more rudimentary,” Smith said. “We get one shot at opening this property to the public. Given a choice, I’d rather take the time to do it right than do it fast.”

When Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie asked for an updated timeframe, Smith estimated that the permitting software could be up and running by January or February 2020. However, Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson cautioned that the website upgrade would be a five- to six-month process.

“January could be optimistic,” Robertson said.

Smith confirmed that, in the event the Board of Supervisors does not accept bids for both tracts by the start of the 2019 hunting season, the responsibility for park maintenance during that season would fall back on the county.