EPA won't conduct Murphy's Landing study

June 07, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has turned down a request to initiate an environmental impact study for a controversial subdivision next to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

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The Harpers Ferry Conservancy, which is battling the proposed 203-home subdivision known as Murphy's Landing, asked the EPA to do an environmental impact statement before the development's sewage plant permit is issued.

An environmental impact statement is a lengthy study that looks at a project's impact on historical and environmental areas.

EPA Regional Administrator Michael McCabe said the permit for the subdivision's sewage plant falls under a regulation program known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

But because it is administered through the state Division of Environmental Protection, it "is not a federal action," McCabe said.

"Consequently, we wouldn't be in a position to initiate an environmental impact statement. We do, however, support your inquiry into (the state Division of Environmental Protection) concerning cultural resources, threatened and endangered species and archaeological impacts," McCabe said in a June 4 letter to conservancy director Paul Rosa.


The letter requesting the environmental impact statement was also addressed to Michael P. Miano, director of the state Division of Environmental Protection.

In another letter, Rosa told McCabe and Miano he believes Murphy's Landing would have "adverse impacts on the quality of the human environment that cannot be successfully mitigated."

Although 203 homes are proposed for the development, the developers have requested a sewage "wasteload allocation" that could serve up to 760 homes, Rosa said.

Besides the battle history at the property, there are several rare plants on the farm as well as a prehistoric archaeological site dating between 8000 and 1200 B.C., according to the conservancy.

Before Miano makes any decision, he has asked Barbara Taylor, chief of the Office of Water Resources in the DEP, to review Rosa's letter, DEP spokesman Andy Gallagher said.

U.S. Sen Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., sent Miano a letter saying Rosa had been in contact with him about the development. Although Byrd said he has no authority on the issue, he wants Miano to look into Rosa's concerns, Gallagher said Monday.

Rosa said he has concerns about McCabe's conclusions. Rosa said it is his understanding that all actions by the state DEP fall under the EPA.

"It may be necessary to take further action to make the point," Rosa said.

The conservancy has already filed a petition in Jefferson County Circuit Court over the development, saying the Jefferson County Planning Commission approved a community impact statement for the subdivision that may have contained misrepresentations about the project.

Until the issues can be addressed, the conservancy is asking the court to block further work on Murphy's Landing.

A hearing on the petition is scheduled for July 30 in Circuit Court.

The conservancy claims some of the homes will be built where artillery was placed for Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's 1862 capture of 12,500 Union troops, the largest capture of Northern troops in the conflict.

The conservancy, along with The Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, was hoping to buy the farm to protect the area from development.

Project Surveyor Mike Shepp, who has been representing developers Josephine Murphy Curtis and Karen Fuller, could not be reached for comment.

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