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Developer sets aside 5,000 acres

Plum Creek project near Riceboro

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POSTED: October 22, 2010 11:53 a.m.
Photo by Denise Etheridge/

Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver thanks Plum Creek Timber Company on Wednesday for setting aside more than 5,000 acres of land into a conservation easement. Former Hinesville mayor and local attorney Tom Ratcliffe, left, and Georgia Land Trust Executive Director Katherine Eddins, right, look on.

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Plum Creek Timber Company cinched a “plum” deal Wednesday when the corporation formally set aside 5,285 acres into a conservation easement here in Liberty County.
The corporation partnered with the Georgia Land Trust and the Georgia Conservancy to officially establish the Jelks Tract mid-week in an outdoor signing ceremony on white sand overlooking a sea of grass. The new easement is nestled between the North and South Newport Rivers south of Riceboro and contains wetlands, hammocks, marshes and tidal estuaries.
“We look for opportunities to protect lands that have conservation and environmental attributes, such as natural beauty and view corridors, historical significance, special plants and species and, of course, wildlife habitat,” said Jim Kilberg, senior vice president of real estate for Plum Creek. “These lands we seek to conserve through conservation sales, land exchanges and conservation easements like the one we are here to celebrate today.”
“We’ve put 1.3 million acres into conservation,” he said. “Conservation is a regular part of our business practice.”
Per the conservation agreement, Plum Creek promises to protect the property in perpetuity, meaning it cannot be developed. However, the company does plan to develop a portion of its remaining 5,000 acres outside of the easement in eight to 10 years, once the economy recovers. 
“We don’t believe we are giving up value. I think we are appreciating the value of the surrounding land. We think it’s going to be a selling point,” said Plum Creek real estate director Doug Cole. Cole said most buyers tend to be attracted to property surrounded by protected land. People want to be close to nature, he explained.
Cole said the land (outside the easement) is zoned for mixed use, so there will be some commercial development and some residential. He also anticipates some light industrial development.
After Wednesday’s signing ceremony he pointed out on a map a proposed community dock and boat hoist to be located on the North Newport River, north of Jelks Pasture on non-conservation land. Cole said individual lot owners’ private docks would be restricted.
The conservation agreement with Plum Creek “is very significant,” said Katherine Eddins, executive director of Georgia Land Trust. “This is the largest easement we’ve done on this expanse of coastal habitat. We will come out and visit the property annually to make sure the terms of the agreement are carried out.”
Eddins said the agreement took about six months to develop. She stressed no vehicular traffic would be allowed on the easement, except in the case of medical or other emergencies, and there would be no commercial timber harvesting as well as no development permitted.
“There will only be foot paths,” she said.
Georgia Conservancy President Pierre Howard applauded the collaboration between Plum Creek, Georgia Land Trust and the conservancy, saying the three entities would work together “to be stewards of what God has given us.”
“We believe at the Georgia Conservancy there’s a way for the coast to develop and for us to save the treasures of the coast at the same time,” Howard said. “I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. What we have noticed around the state is that companies that set aside land for green space and really are protective of the treasures of their land can get more for the houses and the developments because people want to be around that kind of (natural) place.”
Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver asked Plum Creek and its environmental partners to ensure the easement is protected and the land outside the easement is “developed in the right way and is managed in the right way.”
McIver said he was initially concerned Plum Creek was planning to develop a private, gated community near Jelks Pasture that prohibited public access. McIver said the company has proposed provisions for a community facility so the general public can “enjoy this pristine environment.”
He added he would like Plum Creek to pursue initiatives to preserve Bull Town Swamp and the Leconte-Woodmanston areas as well.


 

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