Community Forum on Hayfields Farm Planned For October 9, 2018
The public is being invited to provide input about the future of Hayfields Farm, a roughly 1,000 acre property located south of McDowell in Highland County. There will be an interactive community forum at The Highland Center on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Hayfields Farm was acquired last December by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, or VOF, as compensatory mitigation in association with the development of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. VOF Communications and Outreach Manager, Jason McGarvey, provides more background. Mr. McGarvey says, “When they settled on the final route that was approved by FERC last year, the route ended up going through ten VOF conservation easements in different counties, and state law requires that when an open-space easement held by a public entity is converted for another use, so in this case, our board made the determination that a pipeline was not consistent use with a conservation easement, we went through the conversion process that state law requires substituted land of greater conservation value be provided in exchange for the impact, so it was about sixty acres or so of conservation easement land was impacted, and Dominion put the 1,000 acre Hayfields property up as the substitute land for the easements that were being impacted in Augusta, Highland, and Bath.
“I think broadly speaking, our primary goal is to conserve the property as primarily open-space. It’s about a 1,000 acres, mostly used for hay farming. It’s got a lot of pasture on it. It’s got about a mile of the Bullpasture River running through it, and it’s got some mountain forested land that butts up against the Highland’s Wildlife Management Area. First and foremost, because this is a mitigation for these impacts to these other easements, we’ll at least need to permanently preserve the property for primarily open-space value. Now beyond that, we want to maximize the public benefit to the property if we can. I think the range of options that are available to us are pretty broad. We could put an easement on it and sell it back to a private landowner. We could retain it as publicly-owned land and use it for public use, or we could find some sort of a creative use for the property that involves public use in some way, maybe has an economic development component to it or tourism component to it, and there have been a lot of suggestions given to us by people in the community, but we’re going to try to go to this meeting on the 9th with a fairly open slate of what the possibilities are. The firm that we’ve pertained to lead this forum, Stantec, they’ve done some research about other similar properties around the country and how they’ve been used for different types of things, and Stantec will be presenting some of those ideas to the community , but they’re not really being put on the table as proposals, so much as just to get people thinking creatively about what we can do to maximize public benefit, protect the conservation values, and meet the goals of the community, but also, for us, [it’s] very important to meet the broader goals of the Commonwealth.”
The forum might be considered more as a workshop than just a presentation, and those who attend should be prepared to participate. Mr. McGarvey explains, “Stantec has a process that they use to get input from people. They’ll have, for example, boards with pictures on them, and you’ll use little stickers dots to put next to things that you like or that you don’t like. We’ll have a presentation from our staff and from Stantec about the property just to give people a sense of where it’s at. We’ll have pictures. We may have some video of the property, some drone video for example, so people can get a sense of what the property is.”
In addition to the community forum, other stakeholders, such as state and local government partners, will provide input, and Mr. McGarvey anticipates at least a year or two of thought about making the most of the property. For more information and updates, folks can visit www.virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org or call Jason McGarvey at 804-314-9557.