Groups say ultility work in park was not permitted

August 24, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - The laying of water and sewer lines through a section of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park last weekend by a private utility company raised the ire of more park supporters Wednesday.

The Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association issued a joint news release criticizing the move, saying the construction was done "purposely and without permission."

"Americans have a right to expect that land protected by the Park Service cannot be bulldozed outside of an orderly and legal review," Joy Oakes, spokesman for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in the release.

James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, said members of his group were "horrified" over what happened.

"The developers had neither authority nor the permits necessary to do this," Lighthizer said in the release.

The Civil War Preservation Trust was involved in purchasing property in the School House Ridge area where the lines were laid and turning the land over to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park as part of an enlargement of the park.


The National Parks Conservation Association helped bring segments of the local community together in support of the boundary expansion, Oakes said.

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 on a proposal by Jefferson Utilities to lay water and sewer lines across the property known as the Perry Orchard site, according to a community bulletin distributed by the park about the issue.

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.

Park Superintendent Donald Campbell said park officials were considering a special permit to allow Jefferson Utilities to do the work when the company 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 night, Campbell said.

The laying of the lines resulted in a flurry of e-mails from people raising objections to the work, and Campbell said his staff have been consulting with U.S. Attorneys offices on how to proceed in the matter.

Campbell said Wednesday that National Park Service officials were still weighing their options and that nothing new had developed.

In an interview Tuesday, Charles Town attorney Mike Cassell, who is representing Jefferson Utilities, defended his client's actions 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 laying the lines over the weekend.

The water and sewer lines were installed to facilitate planned residential development near the park, according to Wednesday's news release.

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