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Preserving Harpers Ferry: Money, pact needed soon

May 18, 1999

For as long as we can remember, there's been friction between Harpers Ferry's preservationist partisans and members of the surrounding community. What those favoring the restoration of a town and a national park devoted to Civil War history see as protection, some members of the community see as restrictions on their ability to do business.

The two sides are squaring off again over the 76-acre Murphy Farm, located next to the 2,300-acre park and the site of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's capture of 12,500 Union troops in 1862.

Members of the Murphy family say that they'd like to put 203 homes on the property. That's not near as many, their surveyor says, as the residential zoning would allow. The forces of preservation have responded by asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to order an environmental impact statement, based on the developer's request to put in a sewage-treatment plant that could serve up to 760 homes.

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But an EPA spokesman says that because the state, and not the federal government, controls the permit process for sewer systems, the request for an impact statement would be a "real stretch."

Why build a sewer plant to treat that much waste if you only want to build half that many homes? Paul Rosa, director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, says it's reasonable to assume that the developers would like to provide sewer service to adjacent properties. The developers' surveyor says that asking for a larger-than-needed allocation is customary, so that changes can be made to the plant's design, if necessary.

It is inevitable that some who inherit farms, particularly small farms such as this one, will elect not to continue farming, particularly when the development alternative is so lucrative.

So if this is about money, the forces of preservation need to compensate the Murphy family for what they'll lose by not developing the property. And they need to do it soon, because as recent events have shown, history is not well-served by waiting until the last minute to craft such agreements.

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