Virginia Civil War Battlefield Faces Development Fight

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In July, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation issued a letter to the Army Corps, stating that the permit would adversely affect a site "of supreme importance in illustrating a key event in our nation's history."

Although the Corps had not responded at press time, it now has the option to approve the permit, open another review process, or continue consultations with interested parties.

The Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are considering a lawsuit against the Corps for failing to adequately consider the site's historic significance.

For his part, Mullins has stated he might donate land to serve as development mitigation zones on his tract. Yet, when preservation groups have suggested acquiring the site, Mullins has quoted a price as high as forty million dollars (U.S.) for the property—at least four times its fair market value.

Promoting History and Smart Growth

Among other concerns, the Advisory Council noted "substantial public sentiment" against the proposed development and its consequences for the historic battlefield.

"The movement to save the Mullins Farm has become more than a preservation movement," said Jim Campi, director of policy and communications for the Civil War Preservation Trust, noting Spotsylvania County's mix of nearly life-long residents with outsiders who moved to the county to escape urban sprawl.

Kevin Leahy is one of those people. Since following his father around battlefields as a child, Leahy has always appreciated Spotsylvania County's Civil War history. But he quickly realized the area was growing out of control. Today, Leahy is spokesperson for the Spotsylvania County chapter of Voters to Stop Sprawl, a political action committee that supports smart growth.

"When I moved here, I didn't want to close the door behind me and say no one else is allowed in," Leahy said. "The key for us as citizens is to recognize the history here and work within that realm. How do we protect the history and still shop and get from point A to point B?"

Some say heritage tourism is the answer to preserving history while expanding the local tax base. "Tourists don't come to Spotsylvania County to shop at Wal-Mart," said Hap Connors, a Spotsylvania County Supervisor. "They come because we have four Civil War battlefields. Other counties would kill to have those resources."

For now, these modern defenders of the Chancellorsville battlefield must wait.

"The thing about history is that it was somebody else's present," Leahy said. "If you think about the issues that we face today, the uncertainty we have about the future, it's similar to what those soldiers were going through on the battlefield."

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