Originally created 07/24/02

Group's land buys preserve waterway



Deke Copenhaver spends his afternoons trying to buy undeveloped land that isn't necessarily for sale.

So far, he's been able to piece together more than 154 acres along Butler Creek between Peach Orchard and Deans Bridge roads. He'd like to add even more - all in the name of conservation.

"We're very proud of what we've done in our first year," said Mr. Copenhaver, the director of the CSRA Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that administers state green space money to buy and preserve sensitive areas.

Butler Creek, which winds through densely developed south Richmond County, was the trust's first project. The objective was simple: purchase or acquire enough conservation easements to protect the streambed.

"We have a few more areas we're working on," he said, adding that final tracts under discussion could be acquired within six months, creating a protected zone along three miles of the creek.

Green space preservation is under way in many Georgia communities because of Gov. Roy Barnes' edict encouraging fast-growing areas to permanently protect 20 percent of undeveloped areas as open, connected green space.

Mr. Barnes' program funneled more than $1 million into Augusta for acquisition of sensitive areas, Mr. Copenhaver said. Similar programs are under way in Gwinnett, Bibb and Camden counties.

Protecting green space also can be accomplished through conservation easements that allow owners to retain the property title and gain a tax benefit by agreeing to protect the land forever.

The Land Trust also has added 274 acres within the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area to the green space program, meaning future stewards of the city-owned land will not be allowed to develop or sell it away.

Mr. Copenhaver said the trust also has offered money to buy canal buffer zones separating commercial and residential development from the banks of the canal.

The buffer area, totaling about 50 acres, is owned by Brandenburg Properties, a California company developing land at Interstate 20 and River Watch Parkway. The Canal Authority wants to buy the buffer but doesn't have enough money.

The Nature Conservancy also has been approached about negotiations to acquire and preserve those buffers, he said. Such preservation typically increases - rather than harms - adjacent property values.

"If you look at the Greeneway in North Augusta, for instance, some residents were skittish about having it near their houses," he said. "Now I think you'll find that those lots sell at premium prices."

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.