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Subdivision faces another possible block

June 14, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A second organization has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review a controversial subdivision being planned next to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The state Division of Culture and History, using new regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act, is asking the EPA to determine if the proposed Murphy's Landing would have an impact on historical sites in the School House Ridge area.

School House Ridge is where Confederate General Stonewall Jackson oversaw the capture of 12,500 troops in 1862, the largest capture of Northern troops in the Civil War.

The Harpers Ferry Conservancy, which is battling the proposal, claims some of the homes will be built where artillery was placed for Stonewall's siege and at the conflict's main area of maneuver.

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The area where the 203-home subdivision would be built "comprises a historic landscape of great integrity," Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Susan M. Pierce said in a June 8 letter to W. Michael McCabe, regional administrator of the EPA office in Philadelphia.

"As such, residential development of this area may adversely affect these resources," Pierce's letter said.

Pierce's group is the second organization that has asked the EPA to look into the subdivision.

The conservancy asked the EPA to conduct an environmental impact study before the development's sewage plant is issued.

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

Because the permit for the subdivision's sewage plant falls under the state's jurisdiction, an environmental impact statement could not be initiated, McCabe said.

Pierce, however, said that because the state's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System falls under the control of EPA, that may be enough to warrant her request.

Pierce is relying on revisions of the National Historical Preservation Act that broaden protection of historic properties. The revisions go into effect Thursday.

If the EPA decides to review the possible impact on historical sites caused by Murphy's Landing, it could rely on written history of the property, according to Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy.

Or it could use a cultural assessment of the property that was prepared by a firm known as Big Blue Archaeological Research, said Rosa.

In addition to the battle history at the property, there is a prehistoric archaeological site dating between 8000 B.C. and 1200 B.C., Rosa said.

Pierce said the EPA may determine the subdivision would not impact historical sites. She also noted plans by developers Josephine Murphy Curtis and Karen Fuller to designate 47 acres as open space to protect Civil War earthworks and other historic areas.

Martinsburg attorney Bob Trumble, who is representing the developers, declined to comment, saying he needed more time to study Pierce's letter.

EPA officials could not be reached for comment.

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