Close to 1,000 Acres Near Dismal Swamp to be Protected

April 02, 2009

By Scott Harper | April 2, 2009 | The Virginian-Pilot

EIP’s Dover Farm Mitigation Bank is featured in The Virginian-Pilot.

Close to 1,000 acres near Dismal Swamp to be protected

CHESAPEAKE, VA – The Nature Conservancy announced Wednesday that 966 acres next to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in southern Chesapeake will be protected from development and restored as wetlands and forests.

The property, known as Dover Farm, off Ballahack Road and U.S. 17, was purchased in 2007 for $5 million by a Maryland company, Ecosystem Investment Partners.

The company has donated all development rights to the conservancy, an international environmental group with considerable holdings in Virginia, and will convert the land from agriculture to its natural state as a forested wetland, officials involved in the deal said Wednesday.

Once trees are replanted and marshy conditions returned, the tract will become a wetlands mitigation bank, offsetting environmental losses through home and road construction elsewhere in the region, said Nick Dilks, a partner of Ecosystems Investment Partners, based in Towson, Md.

“This important project is a great example of how private investors and conservationists can partner to achieve significant conservation outcomes on the ground,” Dilks said.

Wetlands banks are becoming big business in Chesapeake, home to thousands of acres of undeveloped, low-lying swamp and converted cropland, which can be cordoned off and used to satisfy wetlands-compensation rules on new development.

If, for example, a developer uses 2 acres of wetlands while building a new shopping center, the government may require it to replace 3 acres. If no suitable sites can be found, the developer can buy 3 acres of credits at a mitigation bank.

However, most of these other wetlands banks are run privately or by the government itself, and not in business relationships with environmental groups such as the conservancy.

Dilks said he hopes Dover Farm becomes part of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge once the bank is completed, probably in several years. I n the meantime, it will provide another buffer of wetlands and forests against encroaching development on its edges.

The tract is popular with resident black bears, which wander on and off the refuge in search of food and mates. Allowing them “migratory corridors” is a key, if dicey, way to ensure a healthy bear population within the swamp, biologists say.

The refuge, encompassing land in Virginia and North Carolina, has a map of coveted properties on its borders called its “acquisition boundary.” Dover Farm is the single largest tract within that zone, and officials have been eyeing the property for conservation for years.

The easement on Dover Farm “will ensure the long-term protection of conservation of this adjacent parcel,” said Chris Lowie, refuge manager.

Soybeans and corn have been grown on the tract for the past 60 years, and it is next to other converted cropland once owned by former Chesapeake Mayor Dalton Edge.

That tract also is being developed into a wetlands mitigation bank.

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340,