Pocahontas County Commission : Saving A Battlefield Or Tilting At Windmills?
Marlinton, WV – Pocahontas County Commission President David Fleming wants to put the Camp Allegheny Civil War Battlefield in northern Pocahontas County on the list of Most Endangered Historic Places in America. However, the landowners on whose land a majority of the battlefield sits, aren’t as eager for the designation. Some may also wonder if this isn’t just a thinly veiled attempt to further delay construction of a proposed wind farm just across the border in Highland County. At the County Commission meeting Tuesday night, Fleming explained why he wants the designation.
“Recently the National Trust for Historic Preservation is putting together a list of nominations to consider for their top 11 sites in the nation” he says. “So the impetus for this consideration is that, there hasn’t yet been a site that is under this kind of consideration due to wind development. The way I see this is that, we have the opportunity as a County Commission to be the nominator for Camp Allegheny Battlefield.”
Fleming says this is also in response to those who have criticized the Commission for not taking a more active role in promoting the battlefield. He notes that Camp Allegheny has been on the list of most endangered Civil War battlefields for the last two years. Ed Riley and his sister Donna Depew own 243 acres of land on Allegheny Mountain, and the majority of the historic battlefield lies within their holdings. Riley, who says he didn’t know about the Commissions’ plans until shortly before this meeting, was not happy.
“Well, my first question is why were we not contacted when all this was being developed” says Riley. “Why are we coming in at the last minute when you’re wanting to send this message [to] apply? Somewhere way back here we should have been talked to cause this was our land; you’re taking our land for your purpose is the way I feel.”
Fleming says the Commission was only recently informed about the nomination themselves. Riley says he also doesn’t appreciate the reasons for the designation as listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservations’ website.
“I looked at this site” he says. “The reasons you recommend them is threatened by neglect; and it’s never been neglected, it’s exactly like it was, it wasn’t tore up.”
“I don’t remember that we’ve said anything about neglect” says Fleming.
“This is what they put on their website is why you nominate – for threatened by neglect, lack of funds to keep it up; and it’s just like it was when they fought there, best preserved battlefield east of the Mississippi; development – we’re not going to develop it, we want to keep it as a battlefield; and public policy. So you’re saying it’s endangered by one of these actions, and that’s not true.”
Riley is afraid that, if accepted by the National Trust, they could have undue influence over what he can and can’t do with his land. He says he doesn’t see any benefit to him or his sister with this designation at this time. In fact, he accused the Commission of having an ulterior motive.
“I think the wind turbines is the thing that’s really behind this, get rid of the wind turbines” says Riley.”
“I said that’s what’s brought it to the attention of the National Trust” says Fleming. “It might not [stop the turbines] and that’s what I’m saying, I don’t see that as the goal.”
“Well that’s the only thing that they’re using is the wind turbines, that’s the only reason to nominate it” says Riley. “You come out a winner because you nominate our place, and all of a sudden here’s all these people wanting to do stuff with it. We’re the losers, because we’re not even going to have a farm up there that we can use. And nobody’s ever come and talk to us; me and my sister are the potential losers in the whole thing.”
Riley says this is similar to the fight that the National Trust and others fought to save the Wilderness Battlefield near Fredericksburg, Va. Walmart had proposed to build a superstore near the battlefield, but decided in January of this year to withdraw their request, due in large part to the pressure brought by the National Trust and other groups. Riley says there are other ways to go after the wind farm.
“There is a federal law, National Historical Prevention Act which says that the Forest Service or the people in Charleston can be forced to make a [Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Section] 106 determination as to what effect it would have” says Riley. “And if they’re getting any federal money or federal permit, then they can be sued to have follow this procedure.”
Commissioner Fleming says he is aware of that regulation. He stresses that he has the best interest of the battlefield at heart.
“Again, Mr. Riley, I just wanted to bring awareness to how this could promote the value of Camp Allegheny” he says. “I hope you as an owner will be talked to and worked with; you have full stakeholdership in this, as does the forest service for their portion [of the battlefield].”
Fleming says he’d like the opportunity to speak with Riley and the National Trust about the implications for the land if the nomination were to be submitted and accepted. Commissioner Martin Saffer says he applauds Fleming’s desire to protect the battlefield, but says any such action has to start with the landowners. Commissioner Jamie Walker shares Riley’s concern about who has control over his land.
“Well, I still see this as where you’re going to give someone else control over private land, and I don’t agree with that” says Walker. “I feel that the people that’s interested in that probably know as much or more about it than any of us sitting in this room without it being [formally] recognized. I don’t think recognizing it going to make any more bulk of people want to study it that’s not already studying it.”
The Commission took no action of the nomination. Commissioner Fleming is scheduled to meet with a Forest Service representative on Monday.