Save Chancellorsville, federal panel urges
July 22, 2003 1:07 am
Preservationists wanting to save part of the Chancellorsville
battlefield from development received a boost yesterday from a federal panel.
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation issued a letter saying
that the Army Corps of Engineers should have taken a more critical look at the historical significance of John Mullins' farm
as part of a permit review for a development project.
This is the latest twist in a protracted modern-day battle over
the Spotsylvania County land. It could be a setback for Mullins, or he may be able to avoid federal involvement altogether.
The five-page letter was critical of the development and the corps'
handling of the proposal. Bernadette Castro, vice chairman of the council, told Les Brownlee, acting secretary of the Army,
The Chancellorsville Battlefield Historic District is a "significant
and irreplaceable historic property of supreme importance in illustrating a key event in our nation's history."
Issuance of the corps permit and subsequent development "will adversely
affect the historic district."
There is substantial public opposition to the development along
State Route 3 "and its consequences for this important Civil War battlefield."
The advisory council, which held a public meeting in Spotsylvania
July 1, also found that the corps should have reviewed Mullins' proposal under a more comprehensive individual permit, rather
than the generic nationwide permit that is under consideration.
And in a broad criticism of the process, the council said the corps
should revise its regulations for assessing impacts on historic properties and that it incorrectly defined the area of potential
effect of Mullins' project.
The corps is involved because Mullins wants six stream crossings;
as part of its review, the corps may also look at any historical impact.
The agency has said preservationists have had ample opportunity
to comment and that it has considered the historical importance of the property.
Mullins, owner of Covenant Funeral Service, wants to build a subdivision,
some offices and some stores on a 273-acre parcel known as the Ashley-Orrock tract. In 1995, Mullins purchased a total of
800 acres, some of which were the scene of fighting between Union and Confederate forces in the spring of 1863.
The Ashley-Orrock tract is not part of the first-day fighting at
Chancellorsville. However, it is within the Lick Run Element where Gen. Robert E. Lee crossed after that battle.
Mullins could not be reached for comment yesterday on the advisory
council's letter. He has agreed to donate some land on Route 3 for a tourist stop, agreed to provide buffers on the tract
and hired a consultant to find the location of the Civil War-era Ebenezer McGee farmstead so that the site can be preserved
with a restrictive covenant.
It could be several days or longer before the corps responds to
the council's letter.
"We're reviewing [it] and waiting for guidance from headquarters
before we proceed," Bruce F. Williams, chief of the corps' Northern Virginia regulatory office, said yesterday.
The corps is not bound by the council's recommendations, so it has
several options. It could approve the permit, require another review under another type of permit or reopen consultations
among interested parties.
In May, the corps took the unusual step of ending consultations
on Mullins' permit with various interested parties after the agency determined that agreement on how the project should proceed
That triggered the advisory council's review.
Jim Campi, director of policy and communications for the Civil War
Preservation Trust, which has been spearheading efforts to halt development on Mullins' land, said yesterday he was not surprised
at the council's recommendations.
"We're certainly pleased with the [council's] response. We think
it validates many of the arguments groups in the coalition have been making--that the corps needs to go back and take a second
look at this," Campi said.
"We're hoping that it will open their eyes to some of the things
they could have done," he said. Campi's organization and other battlefield preservation groups made many of the arguments
contained in the council's letter.
In her letter, Castro recommended that the corps instead pursue
an individual permit to "take a leadership role in seeking possible options that will encourage the protection of endangered
Civil War battlefields."
Further, she wrote, the corps should "work with the National Park
Service's American Battlefield Protection Program, state and local governments and other stakeholders to encourage the protection
and interpretation of Civil War battlefields as part of the environmental review"
Spotsylvania County has signed off on Mullins' plans; all he needs
now to proceed is the corps permit.
Last week, Mullins said he had yet another option: to pay for bridges
over the streams, which would not require the corps permit and make that process moot.
Copyright 2001 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.