County could see state forest in future

Published 2:05 pm Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) is in discussion with The Conservation Fund (TCF) for the possible purchase of 4,944 acres of land currently owned by Stanley Lumber Company in Charlotte County in hopes of turning it into a state forest.

The land is adjacent to Double Bridges Road and Mossingford Road near Drakes Branch.

Harvey Darden, Agency Lands Director with VDOF, addressed the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 11 seeking a letter of support from the county.

According to Darden, the letter of support would help the VDOF in applying for grants.

“Currently there is no state forest in Charlotte County, and this property would provide access and recreational opportunities to citizens that wish to hike, bike, horseback ride, hunt or enjoy nature at no cost to the county,” said Darden.

Darden went on to say that the VDOF does not pay real estate taxes on property, but with the purchase of the land, the county would receive 25 percent of any timber sales.

“I looked up the current tax value … on these parcels, and it’s $37,532,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here today and say you’re going to get a check for X number of dollars every year from timber sales because it varies quite a bit. It may be a few dollars. It could be $100,000.”

Aspen/Phenix District Supervisor Donna Fore asked Darden, “How much of this property is harvestable timber right now.”

Darden said he did not have those numbers and was unsure. “We haven’t even had the property appraised yet. I can’t tell you what that number is yet,” said Darden. “But we can only pay what it is appraised at.”

Hearing Darden’s explanation raised concerns for Wylliesburg/Red Oak Supervisor Kay Pierantoni who addressed the issue of lost tax revenue. “$37,000 might not seem like a lot to any agency or to other counties, but in Charlotte County, here’s our situation. We raised taxes 20 percent this year. We have very little industry, and the situation was so bad that we even had to cut $35,000 to volunteer fire departments. So, these are men and women that go and fight fires and sometimes forest fires volunteering their time, and they are scraping by with limited funds and this board cut their funds by $35,000. The fire department in the district where this state forest would go (Drakes Branch) has  a terrible uphill battle in trying to build a new fire station, and it’s not because they want a pretty building. It’s because their building has been condemned. So, you know we have real problems here in Charlotte County. We, as the Board of Supervisors, should do everything in our power to make certain they have the funds needed. Dollars needed for their operation should come before many other things.”

Pierantoni went on to say that even though a state forest sounded like a great idea, she needed more numbers before she could make a vote. “I would make the appeal to the board that we put this off until we have some more information,” said Pierantoni “And one of the main things I need to see is a management plan and revenue income.”

Supervisor Crystal Shepherd, who represents the Cullen/Red House District, agreed with Pierantoni saying she too needed to see more data.

“With the 25 percent of timber sales, I don’t think we’re going to be out of money by a very little bit, but the recreational benefits would more than offset that,” added County Seat Supervisor Gary Walker. “We’re talking about a huge park in the middle of Charlotte County. I just think this is a good thing.”

Following the lengthy discussion supervisors unanimously voted to table submitting a letter of support for the state forest until they could receive more data.