An effort to keep Wal-Mart from building a Supercenter on hallowed ground near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park has failed, with Orange County, Virginia, officials saying, "(T)his was a private deal between a private landowner and private business."
The long-running battled that pitted Civil War preservationists against a corporate giant ended early Tuesday when the county's Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve plans that call for a nearly 140,000-square-foot Supercenter with accompanying retail outlets on land that historically was part of the Wilderness Battlefield.
“I am deeply disappointed by today’s vote. The Orange County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to protect the battlefield by embracing a reasonable compromise approach to the Wal-Mart superstore proposal. Instead, they ignored rational voices on the national, state and local level encouraging them to work with the preservation community and local landowners to find a more suitable alternative location," said the organization's president, James Lighthizer.
“Today’s vote is not just a setback for preservationists. Orange County residents are losers as well. If the county had embraced the preservation planning process first proposed by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition in January, there would have been an opportunity to mitigate the transportation and development impacts of the proposal. Instead, the board voted to repeat the mistakes made by other localities, who are now struggling to address the problems created by similar piecemeal development and rampant sprawl.
“The ball is now in Wal-Mart’s court. Wal-Mart better understands the nationwide anger generated by its proposal to build on the doorstep of a National Park. It is in the corporation’s best interests to work with the preservation community to find an alternative site. After all, building a big box superstore on the Wilderness Battlefield would belie recent attempts to portray Wal-Mart as environmentally sensitive. We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere," continued Mr. Lighthizer.
"The Civil War Preservation Trust and the other member groups of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition will now carefully weigh options for continued opposition of this misguided proposal. This battle is not over yet.”
At the NPCA's Virginia office, Catharine Gilliam said she was not surprised by the vote.
"This commercial development is improperly sited on land that is critical to understanding the National Park Service's interpretation of the Battle of the Wilderness for the American people. NPCA has actively participated and offered constructive suggestions to find alternatives that would protect the neighboring national park and allow a Walmart to be built on less sensitive land," she said. "It is not necessary to desecrate the land where a horrific battle took place less than 150 years ago in pursuit of profit and pavement.
"Although members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors announced repeatedly that they would vote to approve Walmart's application, even before the public process began, NPCA and our members, and other organizations in the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, participated in the public process at every stage available," Ms. Gilliam added. "Despite last night's disappointing vote, we will continue to explore options to protect this important national park. This battle is not over yet. We continue to hold out hope that Walmart will do the right thing by relocating its business, and respect and protect Americas heritage and history."
Among those who urged Orange County to choose another location for the proposed Wal-Mart were U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.); Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) and House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell (R); actors Robert Duvall, Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stein; and more than 250 historians, including Pulitzer prize-winning authors David McCullough and James McPherson and acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns.
According to the National Park Service, the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on May 5-6, 1864, with troops under both Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee engaged. "It was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the Eastern Theatre," notes the agency.