Isle of Wight County accepts bids for Blackwater property

Published 7:14 pm Friday, October 18, 2019

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


Isle of Wight County received five bids in response to the invitation it issued in September for hunt clubs to lease a county-owned parcel of land along the Blackwater River. On Thursday, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to accept two of these bids: one for the southern tract of the property and the other for the northern tract.

For the remainder of the 2019 hunting season, which began Oct. 1, hunting rights on the southern tract will belong to the Bent Barrel Hunt Club of Sussex County, which had bid $6,150. For the northern tract, hunting rights will go to the Bacon’s Castle Hunt Club of Surry County, which had bid $13,038.69. Both leases will remain in effect through June 30, 2020, with an optional one-year renewal at the Board of Supervisors’ discretion.

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 in the Ivor area. 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, with the stipulation that 51 percent of the club’s membership be Isle of Wight County residents. This stipulation, as evident by the county’s choice of lessees, will not be in place this season.

As was the case in previous years, the two hunt clubs will be required to maintain all designated roads and trails on their tracts of the property, to include mowing two to three times annually and pruning of vegetation along the roads and removal of any tree limbs and debris from the roads. The hunt clubs will also assume responsibility for opening and closing the access gates to the property during hunting season.

According to David Smith, the county’s director of parks and recreation, the plan for the property after June 30 is to re-issue the request for proposals that the Board of Supervisors had authorized earlier this year, rather than a new invitation for bids. The IFB, he explained, had been “a little less formal” than the previous RFP in that bidders did not need to go into detail as to their qualifications to manage the property.

Isle of Wight County had received three responses from hunt clubs to its initial RFP and had been scheduled to vote on the proposals in August, but instead, had rejected all three and cancelled the RFP, citing a “breach in the purchasing process.”

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

In that article, McFarland wrote, “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.”

Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, when asked about this allegation, explained that 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.

Per the recommendation of the county’s Blackwater Task Force, that RFP had included the caveat that the proposed leases would only be for the seven weeks of hunting season from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The plan at the time had been to offer individual hunting permits for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the Oct. 1 through 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 to the third week in May. Sundays would be reserved for non-hunting activities, even during hunting seasons, and all other permitted activities would be allowed when group and individual hunting licenses are not in effect. These activities include fishing, biking, paddling on the Blackwater River, horseback riding, primitive camping, bird and wildlife viewing and rare plant viewing.