Last year I recounted a story about developers who allegedly dug utility trenches across a portion of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park without obtaining the necessary permission from the National Park Service.
Well, the U.S. attorney's office in West Virginia continues to investigate that matter. And now the Friends of Harper's Ferry National Historical Park is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether any National Environmental Policy Act violations were committed in connection with the project to develop a 3,000-3,500-home subdivision on land that not only carries a rural zoning designation but which is surrounded on three sides by the park. The Shenandoah River comprises the fourth side.
Why the concern over a project on private land? Well, for starters the land in question has historical significance as part of a key Civil War battle. It's so significant that the friends group believes the land should be annexed by the park. Then there's the simple aesthetic question of whether a national park should be wrapped around a "mini-city."
What's so historically significant about the property in question? In September 1862 it was the southern part of the Union Army's line of defense for the siege of Harper's Ferry. On September 15th of that year Confederate General A.P. Hill flanked the Union troops at night and ended the siege in what's said to have represented the largest surrender of American forces on U.S. soil up until that point.
“It was a very critical part of telling the story not only of the Civil War but a key part of American history,” says Scot Faulkner, president of the friends group.
No doubt, this issue directly involves private property rights, and those who stringently interpret those rights no doubt will say this development shouldn't be an issue at all, that the developers are well within their rights to do whatever they want with the land, as long as it's within the law.
Fair enough. But really, can't we as a society manage to find a bit of restraint in where and how we make the almighty dollar? Haven't we reached that level of consciousness? I would imagine that the developers could negotiate a deal with the friends group that would allow the park to acquire the land. Of course, they likely could make more money by developing the land.
So where do things stand? Well, while the U.S. attorney's office in West Virginia continues to study the possible trespass on the historical park by the company that dug the trench for the utilities, the friends group believes the attorney also should consider possible NEPA infractions.
In a letter sent to the EPA's Region III office earlier this week, Faulkner cited a number of possible violations:
* The possibility that sewer lines were improperly constructed from the proposed Sheridan subdivision to the "Old Standard" sewer plant;
* Possible violations tied not only to NEPA but also the Endangered Species Act as permits for the project were issued before any surveys were conducted for the endangered Madison Cave Isopod;
* Possible NEPA violations tied to the issuance of permits by the Maryland Department of the Environment for the diversion of 1.2 million gallons of water daily from the Shenandoah River "to an aluminum plant in Maryland and the placing of an industrial barge and pumping station in the Shenandoah River near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. No public notice or hearings were held in West Virginia because it was deemed a Maryland project;"
* Possible NEPA violations relating to certification and inspection of "the voluntary remediation of contaminated soil in the Old Standard Quarry. In this case, the federal government projected the remediation would cost $2 million, but state officials deemed the remediation adequate when less than $24,000 was spent. A contractor for Old Standard, LLC, who is also a business partner of the Old Standard owners, conducted the only on-site inspection. No independent inspection, and no one from the WVDEP (West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection), ever inspected the remediated site."
How timely is the EPA's review of this allegations? Extremely.
“The developers have proceeded to lay their sewer and water lines from the Perry Orchard down to the proposed site for the sewer plant," Faulkner tells me. "And according to the rumor mill, they are hoping to construct and complete the sewer plant by June of '07, which means the whole system could be operational over the summer of '07.”