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Group pays $35M for 4,400 coastal acres in Jasper County to ensure conservation

Ross Norton //February 15, 2024//

The Department of Defense put up $6 million of the purchase price for Gregorie Neck because it wants to prevent dense development near its bases. (Photo/Holcombe, Fair & Lane)

The Department of Defense put up $6 million of the purchase price for Gregorie Neck because it wants to prevent dense development near its bases. (Photo/Holcombe, Fair & Lane)

Group pays $35M for 4,400 coastal acres in Jasper County to ensure conservation

Ross Norton //February 15, 2024//

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The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina today said it has acquired one of the largest undeveloped waterfront properties in coastal South Carolina.

The purchase will ensure permanent protection for the 4,409-acre Gregorie Neck property with a conservation easement, the organization said in a news release. Flanked by deep water access on the Coosawhatchie and Tulifiny Rivers and bisected by Interstate 95, the property was listed for sale in 2023.

The Nature Conservancy paid $35 million for the acreage.

The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina secured an agreement with Beaufort-based Open Land Trust to place property under a conservation easement. The easement will permanently limit development of the property to no more than six homesteads, each with a limited number of structures, according to the release. Following the placement of the easement, The Nature Conservancy will divest of the property, including existing waterfront homes and outbuildings.

“Unlike so many miles of waterfront in our state, the future of Gregorie Neck now is certain,” Dale Threatt-Taylor, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina, said in the news release. “The very limited development allowed by this approach will leave thousands of acres of marsh, woods and fields intact for wildlife and water quality.”

One of the players was the Department of Defense, which is particularly interested in ensuring limited development for the good of national security. Earlier this month, the Defense Department announced that the Gregorie Neck project was the recipient of a $6 million Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Challenge grant, awarded to prevent incompatible development and protect landscapes in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The REPI grants are part of the military’s “Sentinel Landscape” program. The Sentinel Landscape Partnership is a coalition of federal agencies, state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations that work with willing landowners and land managers to advance sustainable land use practices around military installations and ranges, according to the partnership’s website.

The permanent restrictions outlined in the terms of the Gregorie Neck conservation easement will decrease the property’s value, a loss that is largely offset by a diversity of funding partners through competitive grants, according to the Nature Conservancy news release.

In additional to its natural beauty, the acreage is considered important for the health of water resources in the region. (Illustration/The Nature Conservancy)

“Permanent land protection with a conservation easement will protect the over 13 miles of river frontage and the property’s rural character forever,” Kristin Williams, executive director of the Open Land Trust, said in the release. “Today is a victory for landscape-scale conservation because this property is truly the heart of the Port Royal Sound, waters on which all of Beaufort and Jasper County depend, and the heart of the protected connected greenbelt around Beaufort, Jasper and our military bases.

“This region is experiencing such intense growth; when we saw the opportunity to protect a property like this — with so much water frontage and direct interstate access — we knew we had to make it happen,” Threatt-Taylor said in the release. “Developing Gregorie Neck would have had a huge impact on this region’s nature and wildlife, as well as its infrastructure needs and traffic. Instead, we hope this project now will accelerate regional land protection efforts. This closing is an achievement made possible by a conservation-minded seller, creative real estate professionals and committed funding partners.”

The sale comes as a moratorium on new commercial and residential development in Jasper County is temporarily in place, yet about to expire, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Gregorie Neck, named for Alexander Gregorie who acquired the property in 1798, has been managed for the last 30 years by the Jepson family to promote the property’s conservation values. Upland forests have massive pines and hardwoods that have not been harvested in many decades, the release said. Impoundments along the rivers’ edges provide critical habitat for wading birds and migratory waterfowl. Open agricultural fields support livestock and songbirds.

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“The variety and condition of Gregorie Neck’s ecosystems are remarkable,” David Bishop, coastal and midlands conservation director for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina, said in the release. “But even more significant is how this property fits into the growing green band connecting the undeveloped lands in the Savannah River Basin with those in the ACE Basin. That band is under intense development pressure and is critical to protect water quality in Port Royal Sound and ensure wildlife have enough healthy habitat.”

To the east of Gregorie Neck, across the Tulifiny River, is Mackay Point, 6,736 acres under conservation easement with Lowcountry Land Trust.  To the northwest is the 12,000-acre Buckfield assemblage, protected by The Nature Conservancy and Open Space Institute.

The property had been listed by Charleston-based Holcombe Fair & Lane.

“It was an honor to help broker this once-in-a-lifetime project,” broker-in-charge Charles Lane said in the release. “While all the partners deserve accolades, I especially commend The Nature Conservancy and the Open Land Trust for their steadfast commitment and the landowners for their unwavering land ethic and generosity.”

A portion of Gregorie Neck lies in the battlefield footprint of the Battle of Tulifiny, a Civil War battle fought during Major General Sherman’s March to the Sea. The Confederacy was represented by 900 men, including the entire Corps of Cadets of the South Carolina Military Academy (The Citadel), marking the only time that the entire student body of a U.S. college fought in combat, the release stated.

Gregorie Neck’s waterfront footprint caught the attention of the property’s downstream neighbor, Beaufort County. OLT applied for a grant from the new Beaufort County Greenspace Program. Passed by voters in 2022, Beaufort County levies a 1% sales tax for land conservation and may spend those dollars outside the county boundary to the benefit of Beaufort County taxpayers. A grant of $1 million was requested and recommended by committee and will be reviewed later in March.

Open Land Trust has also applied for funding from the S.C. Conservation Bank, a statewide program to fund land conservation projects of critical importance, the release said. Their funding request will be heard next month.

Over the next few months, The Nature Conservancy, Open Land and the Marine Corps Air Station-Beaufort through the Department of the Navy will complete final easement reviews and close on the conservation easement to finalize the property’s permanent protection, the release stated. The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina may retain or sell the property to conservation-minded buyers, all subject to the terms of the easement.

“We hope the protection of Gregorie Neck encourages other large landowners on the Port Royal Sound to work toward conservation outcomes,” Bishop said in the release. “We have a rare opportunity to protect our natural resources and sense of place in the Port Royal Sound and encourage development in the right places. That opportunity closed a long time ago in other coastal communities.”