“Oak Point” is identified in red on this locator map. Map courtesy of Beaufort County Open Land Trust.

‘Oak Point’ protected for $5.8 million

Conservation easement secures largest unprotected property in St. Helena Sound

From staff reports

The Department of Defense (DoD) and Beaufort County Council announced Friday the permanent protection of 2,067.77 acres, known as “Oak Point” on the Wimbee River in the St Helena Sound.

The conservation easement was funded by the DoD and Beaufort County Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program and is held in partnership between DoD and Beaufort County Open Land Trust. Partners each contributed $2,900,000 for a total land purchase of $5,800,000

“This is truly a ‘Team Beaufort’ victory, and we thank all the parties involved in making this a success,” Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Commanding Officer Colonel Karl R. Arbogast said in a release. “We are pleased to add this property to over 13,000 acres of protected land around the Air Station. Preserving Oak Point protects the Air Station’s military mission by ensuring unobstructed training for our pilots and aircrew. More importantly, it provides mutual, multiple benefits by protecting not just our military mission but the wonderful community we call home. Thanks again for the outstanding support to the sound of freedom.”

This property has been a long-sought-after priority for protection by MCAS Beaufort. It is located off the north end of MCAS Beaufort Runway 05/23 and within the Air Installations Compatible Use Zones (AICUZ) noise footprint. MCAS Beaufort secured funds to protect the mission-critical interests of the Air Station.

“The conservation of Oak Point is an outstanding accomplishment of the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands program in a 50 percent partnership with one of our counties’ major employers and economic drivers – the United States Marine Corps. It is the third-largest property preserved in Beaufort County by Rural and Critical Land Preservation to date. If left unprotected, the current zoning could have allowed at least 600 houses and subsequent docks threatening the waters of the ACE basin and air space for MCAS Beaufort. The preservation of Oak Point is recognized as a major local and state-wide accomplishment,” said County Council Member Alice Howard, chairwoman of the Natural Resources Committee.

Funding came from the Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program and the Department’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI) program in a competitive grant program. REPI funds have helped protect several other properties in Beaufort County, including Clarendon Farms (2009-10: 1,203 acres) and are frequently leveraged with Rural and Critical Preservation Program funds; joint projects include McLeod Farms (2007: 375 acres) and nearby Chisolm Property (2008: 4,717 acres), Coosaw Plantation (2011: 1,529 acres) and Dopson Tract (2014: 291 acres) to the south.

MCAS Beaufort and Beaufort County have been partners on these types of projects for more than 20 years.

“Protecting this property has an incredible public benefit because it further protects waterfront in the St Helena Sound. Protecting Oak Point has individual value – to wildlife, water quality, fishing and recreational interests, and the military – but due to its location in the middle of a protected landscape, the public benefits are multiplied even further,” Open Land Trust Executive Director Kristin Williams said in a release. “This conservation easement successfully adds to the ACE Basin, military readiness, and an entire landscape of protected properties around our thriving communities – forever.”

The conservation easement significantly reduces housing density and incompatible development on the property while protecting the public’s scenic enjoyment from the Wimbee River and Barnwell Creek. Due to the long-standing RCLP and REPI partnership, Beaufort County taxpayers were able to secure this property for 45 percent of appraised value.

In the 2020 Beaufort County “Greenprint,” Oak Point also emerged as the top-tier priority for protection due to its large size and ability to provide critical habitat and stabilize water quality in the St Helena Sound.

Oak Point is bound by Barnwell and Wimbee Creeks on the north and by South Wimbee Creek on the south, all of which drain into St. Helena Sound, providing approximately 18 miles of river and tidal creek frontage. Oak Point is located between SCDNR-owned South Williman Island and RCLPP/SCDNR-protected North Williman Island (8,000 acres) and Buzzard Island (120 acres) on the north and surrounded by other protected properties. It represents the last unprotected property immediately adjacent to the St Helena Sound.

Oak Point Island is located in Dale. Land protection efforts began more than 10 years ago, restarted in earnest in 2019, and were completed in 2021.

To date, the Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program has protected more than 26,000 acres throughout Beaufort County. Some land is protected with conservation easement sand some is protected as part of the Beaufort County Passive Parks Program. All funding for land protection comes from the voter-approved bond referendum, most recently approved in 2018. For more information visit www.ruralandcritical.org

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