Release of bids may delay awarding Blackwater hunting

Published 7:03 pm Tuesday, August 13, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Blackwater property may not be available for club hunting this year due to a “breach” of secrecy in the request for proposals process. However, the breach referred to by county staff may have started with county staff. 

Public access for hunting and other activities is likely to be delayed for other reasons. 

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Due to the “breach,” the proposal will have to be put out to bid again if the Board wants to do that, said Isle of Wight County attorney Bobby Jones at Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The bid amounts became public before the Board of Supervisors had a chance to discuss the submissions. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The bid amounts were included in the initial July agenda packet and were posted online, but were quickly removed once that became known, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

Mill Swamp Hunt Club member Billy Holleman said another member initially saw the bid amounts in the Board packet posted online. 

“If someone saw it, that’s one thing, but if made pubic, something else,” said Robertson, blaming the breach of secrecy on a July 24 Smithfield Times story concerning the bid amounts. 

If it hadn’t been in the newspaper, it’s not known if the bids would have had to be nullified, said Robertson, who didn’t consider posting the bids on the county website the breach even though hunt club members saw it there.

The information wasn’t on the website for very long, Robertson added. 

The bidders and the bid amounts were included in a customary staff report and received from a hunt club member by The Smithfield Times. In addition to the bid amounts, it stated, “Proposals from three hunt clubs desiring to hunt on the Blackwater have been submitted and reviewed. The Board may wish to authorize staff to move forward with the high bidders for each of the respective sections of the property.” 

A Surry County-based hunt club had offered three times the cash that Mill Swamp had proffered for use of the land during deer and turkey hunting seasons, $18,000 versus $5,000. Isle of Wight Hunt Club was the only bidder on the smaller tract, at $2,400.

Jones wanted the Board to consider if it wants to drop the RFP route and instead do an invitation to bid.

An invitation to bid spells out what the bidder is required to do and the bidder offers an amount to do the job, said Robertson.

Generally, in bids for roads, schools and similar items, the job goes to the lowest bidder, he said.

In this case, it’s the reverse — the county is leasing the property and the bidder is paying to use it, as well as fulfill the requirements of the job, so the highest bidder will win, said Robertson. 

A request for proposals is a more involved process and in addition to the bid amount, the county also takes into consideration what is being offered, said Robertson.

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice said the Blackwater RFP did not address the maintenance that would be required and how that the clubs would be held accountable for the work. 

With the RFP, the county would have negotiated with the hunt clubs over what they would be willing to do and at what price, said Robertson.

In addition to hunting, the clubs have historically maintained the many paths that run through the roughly 1,800-acre property. 

The Blackwater property consists of two parcels that for years have been leased by Mill Swamp and the Isle of Wight hunt clubs. Isle of Wight was the only bidder for the smaller tract, but that bid is disqualified too, said Robertson. 

The newly formed Blackwater Advisory Board has come to the conclusion that it is not ready to open the property to the public for hunting or other activities by this fall, said Isle of Wight Parks and Recreation Director David Smith.

“We’re going to have people with guns, people with horses,” he said, adding that it’s important that the county be organized. 

It only has one shot to do this and the advisory board wants to do it right, said Smith.

Permitting for parking lots and other infrastructure has been cumbersome and the county’s current software isn’t really up to the task of providing permits for the public activities allowed, such as hunting, horseback riding, hiking, canoeing and bicycling, said Smith.

The Board asked that the advisory board provide a monthly report on its progress and Jones said he would bring more information concerning leasing or the invitation to bid process to the next meeting.  {/mprestriction}