County re-soliciting bids for Blackwater property

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2019


blackwater river park

This map, included in Isle of Wight County’s invitation for bids, shows the boundaries of the northern and southern tracts of the Blackwater property. Five miles of the property is river frontage along the Blackwater, which serves as the border between the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton. Courtesy | Isle of Wight County

In August, Isle of Wight County cancelled its request for proposals from hunt clubs for use of a county-owned parcel of land along the Blackwater River, citing a “breach in the purchasing process.” Now, the county has re-solicited bids, only this time, the process is a little different.

On Sept. 19, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to issue an invitation for bids, which, according to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, differs from an RFP in that it allows the county to specify what it expects of the offeror, and simplifies the bidding process so that the highest bidder will be awarded the opportunity to lease the property for hunting. According to David Smith, the county’s director of parks and recreation, the IFP will be “a little less formal” in that bidders need not go into detail as to their qualifications to manage the property.

[An] IFB is pretty cut and dry, here’s what we need you to do, you tell us what you’re going to bid on that,” Smith explained. “There’s no room for negotiation.”

According to county staff, the “breach” in the initial RFP process occurred when the contents of the submittals were published recently in The Smithfield Times. It managing editor, Diana McFarland, however, gives a slightly different account of what happened in an article published in the Times Wednesday, Sept. 11, edition.

In that article, McFarland writes, “The hunt clubs had found out what each other had bid to use the property and shared that information with The Smithfield Times, which published it in the newspaper. Although the hunt clubs had found the bid amounts from information the county had posted on its own website, county officials declared the secrecy ‘breached’ because the newspaper later published the proposals.”

Robertson, when asked about this allegation, said the bid amounts included in the proposals had been inadvertently listed in a Board of Supervisors agenda, which was briefly posted on the county’s website and subsequently corrected. The county’s purchasing officer, Michael Coburn Sr., was the person who had determined secrecy had been “breached,” and had made the decision to close the RFP and reject the three bids the county had received, Robertson said.

The property — now being referred to in some county documents as Blackwater River Park — is located off of Broadwater Road near the county’s border with Southampton County. It includes 2,507 acres of forestland, 5 miles of which is river frontage. The county acquired the property in 2010 with financial assistance from the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The county has leased the property for the past several years to local hunt clubs, which per the terms of their leases, have been tasked with maintaining the property.

Smith had commented in July regarding the initial RFP that in the event the Board of Supervisors did not accept bids for the Blackwater property’s northern and southern tracts by the start of the 2019 hunting season, which began Oct. 1, the responsibility for park maintenance during that season would fall back on the county. Despite the fact that new bids were not due until Oct. 8, with the Board of Supervisor’s vote scheduled for this Thursday, the draft lease agreements included in the IFB still require each hunt club to take responsibility for the upkeep of their tract. The leases will take effect from the date of Board approval through June 30, 2020.

He confirmed that even with the delay that resulted from the cancellation of the original RFP, Parks and Recreation should not have to do any upkeep on the property in the mean time.

They [the hunt clubs] may have to play catch up a little bit, but it should not be a situation where we would have to go in there and do anything,” Smith said.