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Harpers Ferry superintendent says deal close for park growth

April 26, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

The superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park said Thursday he believes the park is close to reaching a deal to purchase the land where the controversial Murphy's Landing subdivision would be built.

"We're close on that one," Donald Campbell told the Jefferson County Commission.

"I think we have agreed on a price. There are still details to work out," Campbell said.

Campbell told the commissioners about the attempt to purchase Murphy's Farm as he gave them a briefing on an effort to expand the national park by up to 1,299 acres.

A 188-home subdivision known as Murphy's Landing has been proposed for the farm land, but opponents of the project claim it would mar the historical landscape of Harpers Ferry.

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The foundation of John Brown's fort is on Murphy's Farm. In 1906, W.E.B. Du Bois and leaders of the Niagara Movement, an early civil rights organization, made a barefoot pilgrimage across the property in honor of Brown.

The meeting led to the formation of the NAACP.

Last summer, the national chapter of the NAACP passed a resolution asking that Congress appropriate the money to buy Murphy's Farm.

Murphy's Farm is one of a handful of properties being considered by the National Park Service as part of a proposed expansion.

In 2000, Congress appropriated $2 million to help the park acquire additional property. Last year, Congress appropriated $11 million for the acquisition of new park land across the country, Campbell said.

"So there's money in the pipeline to work with willing sellers," he said.

Campbell said he could not comment on the terms being discussed between the Park Service and sisters Josephine Murphy Curtis and Karen Fuller, the owners of Murphy's Farm.

Curtis, when reached later by telephone, said the family could not comment.

Murphy's Farm is on 99 acres adjacent to the park between the Shenandoah River and U.S. 340.

The proposal for Murphy's Landing subdivision has run into problems with federal regulators.

The Environmental Protection Agency last October instructed state environmental officials not to issue a water pollution permit for the development's sewage system.

The EPA said the state had provided too little proof to show the sewage would have minimal impact on a nearby stream.

The state Department of Environmental Protection later decided it could not resolve the issues brought up by the EPA and relinquished its jurisdiction over the permit to the EPA.

Commissioner Dean Hockensmith asked Campbell if the EPA was delaying the project to give the National Park Service time to buy Murphy's Farm.

Campbell said that was not the reason for the delay.

Earlier this week, the country's largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group announced it had mounted an effort to purchase 232 acres on School House Ridge, which is also within the park's proposed expansion area.

The Civil War Preservation Trust said it would try to buy the land for the park by raising $200,000 in private and public funds.

If the $200,000 can be raised, it will trigger $1.5 million in state and federal money to buy the property, said Dennis Frye, a Sharpsburg resident and a member of the organization's national advisory board.

The park service has collected about 3,000 public comments about the proposal to expand the park.

The comments will be sent to Congress to help it decide whether to expand the park, Campbell told the commissioners.

Hockensmith was the only commissioner to raise concerns about the park expansion.

He said the county would lose tax revenues if the land in the expansion area was taken off county tax rolls and turned over to the federal government.

Campbell said there is a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, or PILOT, that would guarantee a payment to Jefferson County to make up for lost taxes.

PILOT payments initially would be more than the tax revenues the county would receive, Campbell said.

But after four years, the size of the PILOT payments would decrease, Campbell said.

Campbell said it is expected that expanding the park would bring 30,000 more visitors a year to the park and $300,000 more into Jefferson County in the form of tourism money.

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