Chatham calls for the deannexation of a nature reserve

Nestled in western Savannah on land owned by Chatham County, the 641 acres of forest and wetlands known as the Blue Sky Preserve serve as a haven for wildlife and nature lovers. But back downtown, the nature preserve is shaping up to be the latest source of debate between city and county leaders.

Indeed, city officials say they were caught off guard after learning from the Savannah Morning News that the county was seeking help from state lawmakers to remove the reservation from Savannah’s boundaries using deannexation legislation.

“I’m very disappointed with this,” City Manager Rob Hernandez said Tuesday. “That no one from the county reached out to us.”

The reservation is located south of Fort Argyle Road and west of Interstate 95 with the Ogeechee River running along its western boundary. Previously owned by logging companies and used for agriculture and light timber production, the county purchased the property for $1.5 million in 2008 for land conservation and passive recreation purposes.

In addition to a 1.7-mile trail, the preserve contains about 570 acres of wetlands that the county wants to be able to use as credits for development purposes, Commission Chairman Al Scott said Friday. Those credits could potentially be used to offset lost wetlands for county projects — such as improvements to US 80 to Tybee Island — or sold to private developers for their own projects, Scott said.

“The county attorney said he should be deannexed…” he said. “If we have a project and we need to have wetland credits, he felt it would be cleaner if it was in the county and we don’t offer wetlands to another jurisdiction.”

The reservation has been located in Savannah since the city annexed the property in 2004 as part of a 6,561 expansion west of Chatham. The city boundary expansion also included the planned 4,045-acre New Hampstead development site north of Fort Argyle.

Scott said he sees no reason the city would oppose deannexation since the reservation cannot be developed or taxed.

“In the meantime, it’s just a nature reserve and we have to come in and maintain the trails, so it has no reason to be in town,” he said.

The deannexation proposal was introduced as one of the Chatham County Commission’s 2019 legislative priorities during a Nov. 28 meeting with state lawmakers.

But Hernandez said he only learned of the proposal on Friday — when the Savannah Morning News sought comment on the deannexation request — and had too many questions about the potential impact of offering a support to remove the land from city jurisdiction.

“Until I get more information, it’s not something I can recommend my elected officials support,” he said.

State Representative Ron Stephens, Republican chairman of the Chatham County Legislative Delegation, said Friday he had no problem supporting deannexation, as long as both governments agree to the proposal. Stephens said they should just make sure the deannexation doesn’t cut off any part of the city and create a municipal island surrounded by an unincorporated county, which is prohibited by state law.

The 2019 legislative session meets on January 14.

If deannexation is approved, the city could get its own nature preserve around the same time it loses Blue Sky. New Hampstead developers recently presented the Savannah City Council with a proposal to dedicate more than 800 acres of wilderness and wetlands to the city for parks and passive recreation. The site is also protected from development after being placed in a conservation easement, according to New Hampstead officials.

Some council members expressed concerns about the potential maintenance costs of such a large expanse of green space at a workshop in October and no decision has yet been made on whether to accept the plot. .

Click here:

For more audio content from SavannahNow:

Comments are closed.