More than 76,000 acres of forests and wetlands on the Delmarva Peninsula have been purchased from a timber company and set aside for future generations as part of three-state agreement.
The land being acquired includes 58,000 acres in Maryland, 9,100 acres in Sussex County, DE and nearly 8,800 acres in Virginia. The land, which at nearly 120 square miles is larger than the city of Baltimore, is all owned by the Chesapeake Forest Products Co.
The company’s land holdings in Maryland are being bought for $33 million, with the state contributing half, according to Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The rest is a gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, based in Pittsburgh, PA.
Glendening called the purchase a “crown jewel” for the state and an extraordinary opportunity to preserve vital parts of the environment. “It’s not a question of whether we can afford to purchase this land,” he said. “It is a question of whether we can afford to let this precious resource slip away.”
Officials compared the plans to huge open spaces preserved in New York and New Jersey. “Ultimately, this could be our Adirondack State Park, our Jersey Pine Barrens,” said John Griffin, the former secretary of natural resources who negotiated part of the deal.
Conservationists have been working to preserve the land since Chesapeake agreed in April to sell 278,000 acres in the three states, including the peninsula property, to a timber subsidiary of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. for $186 million.
The land, including 11,155 acres of unaltered wetlands, are among the most valuable ecologically in the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The Delaware land in the lower third of the state is valuable because of links to the Nanticoke River which, according to a 1984 study, “represents the least developed major river valley segment in Maryland and the longest unbroken pine forest on the Delmarva Peninsula.”
The Delaware legislature was expected to appropriate $5 million as an installment for the land. The total price for that state will be about $10 million, according to Mark Chura, a land preservation official in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “We’re very excited,” he said. ”This is a unique chance to put together a block of lands on the Nanticoke River.” Delaware officials referred to the price of the purchase as a “fire sale."
Maryland will take possession of half the land immediately after the deal is completed. The Mellon Foundation will hold the rest while it develops a forestry plan and then the land will become a state forest, where timbering may be privately managed.
The negotiations involved the Conservation Fund, a private group in Arlington, VA that specializes in preserving land; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; the three states, Chesapeake, John Hancock, the Mellon Foundation and St. Laurent, a Canadian firm buying two of Chesapeake’s sawmills in Princess Anne and West Point, VA, a chip mill in Pocomoke City and a lumber plant in Milford, VA.