ABSENTEE COMPANIES OWN MUCH OF MOUNTAIN STATE - In Six Counties, Corporations Own One-Half Of Land


Much of West Virginia is owned by out-of-state corporations.

In six counties, the top 10 landowners hold more than half of the private land. Five of those six - Wyoming, McDowell, Logan, Mingo and Boone.

Few reports have emerged in WV about the land ownership, although from early days they have been called carpetbaggers.

In some of those counties the corporations pay very little real estate tax per acre, compared to private landowners.

In 2002, the Hur Herald reported one of the areas largest land and timber owners, Mead-Westvaco had been sold to the Heartwood Forestland Group LLC, owning about one-third of Wirt County land, and smaller percentages in other regional counties.

The 2002 sale was for $22.5 million in Wirt County alone, 44,000 acres under 316 parcels.

North Carolina-based Heartwood Forestland Fund, a timberland investment company now owns more than 500,000 acres in 31 counties, is West Virginia's largest landowner.

Wirt County officials were unclear what the sale might mean to the county, other than a transfer tax charge.

Westvaco, the original holder of the land, was often reported to be paying less than $1 per acre on some parcels.

In 2006 education activist Linda Martin said some studies say corporations own 51% of the land in WV and 76% of the minerals, but regular property owners pay 84% of the taxes. "The legislature, lobbied by the corporations, placed a 4% cap per year on what taxes they would have to pay," she said.

The new report asks questions about the absentee landlord ownership and what it could mean to the future of land use for the Mountain State.

READ: W.Va. still owned by absentee companies, report says By Ken Ward for the Charleston Gazette

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