Outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue announced late this afternoon that he was replacing a Department of Natural Resources board member who voted against the controversial Oaky Woods purchase with a veteran lobbyist.
Robert Leebern Jr., whose family was a major contributor to Perdue’s 2006 re-election campaign, will replace Thomas Wheeler as the representative of the 5th congressional district. Wheeler’s term expires Jan. 1.
Leebern of Atlanta is a principal with Troutman Sanders Strategies, where he leads the federal affairs practice and serves on the firm’s board of directors.
Perdue also announced he was replacing coastal representative Jenny Lynn Bradley, chair of the DNR board, with Mark V. Smith of Savannah, a hotel management executive at Prince-Bush-Smith Hotels and chief executive officer at South Atlantic Utilities.
Bradley’s term also expires Jan. 1.
Earlier this month, the DNR board voted to pay $28.7 million for 10,015 acres of the Oaky Woods property near Perdue’s home.
The board voted 11-6 in favor of buying the land from a group of investors called Oaky Woods Properties LLC. The company had planned to develop the tract with shops, offices and up to 35,000 homes before the real estate market plummeted.
Some DNR board members argued that the state was going to pay too much for the land.
The state agreed to pay $2,874 per acre. In comparison, Oaky Woods Properties bought the tract for $1,600 an acre six years ago.
Wheeler voted against the purchase, saying of the price, “It was too high.”
Though she didn’t participate in the final vote, Bradley also expressed qualms. “It’s a good acquisition for this state,” she said. “I still personally think the property is too high. I think the state is paying too much money for it.”
Other board members said they voted for the purchase to protect the pristine wilderness from development. State officials said the tract is popular among hunters and fishermen and serves as a home to black bears, endangered plant species and unique prairies.