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Utility work at park concerns official, residents

August 23, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - A controversy is brewing over the decision by a Jefferson County utility company to begin laying water and sewer lines through a section of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park while park officials were still reviewing a special permit for the work.

The laying of the lines through the School House Ridge area along U.S. 340 has resulted in a flurry of e-mails from people raising objections to the work, which went until 10 p.m. one night over the weekend, said Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Superintendent Donald Campbell.

Vicki Faulkner, a member of Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, believes workers did the work last weekend because they thought park rangers would be preoccupied with the 100th anniversary of the Niagara Movement in the park.

"They were little stinkers over the weekend," Faulkner said.

Charles Town attorney Mike Cassell, who is representing Jefferson Utilities, said Faulkner is "dead wrong."

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In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service was conducting a preliminary environmental analysis of the impacts to lay water and sewer lines across the property, which is also known as the Perry Orchard site, according to a community bulletin which the park distributed about the issue.

The land was turned over to the park as part of a recent boundary expansion for the park, Campbell said.

Although the park now owns the property, Jefferson Utilities at one point was able to obtain a 45-foot-wide easement on the property to install utility lines, the bulletin said.

Campbell said park officials were considering a special permit to allow Jefferson Utilities to do the work when Jefferson Utilities began installing water and sewer lines on the property last Friday. The work continued over the weekend and was done at times under lights and until 10 p.m. one evening, Campbell said.

People within the National Park Service have expressed concerns about the work and Campbell said his staff members have been talking with people in the U.S. Attorney's offices in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Wheeling, W.Va., and other officials about the matter.

Cassell defended his client's actions Tuesday and criticized the way the federal government has handled the issue.

Cassell said Jefferson Utilities was told that a decision on the special permit would be available by July 12. No decision was issued and Jefferson Utilities officials could not get any information about the status of the permit, Cassell said.

Cassell said the issue had been dragging for months and Jefferson Utilities was not going to wait another six months for a decision. Cassell said Jefferson Utilities was exercising its rights under the easement by doing the work over the weekend.

Cassell said his client was willing to stop the work if a stop work order could have been produced by the federal government, but one was not issued.

"We're not going to allow our clients to be bullied," Cassell said.

Cassell said because the federal government seemed to be mostly concerned about the use of explosives in the area, Jefferson Utilities used a special machine to dig trenches which grinds through rock instead of blasting it.

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