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Lawyer says company had right to lay water, sewer lines

August 25, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - Charles Town attorney Mike Cassell on Thursday outlined the legal documents that he believes gave his client, Jefferson Utilities, the right to lay water and sewer lines through a section of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park last weekend.

According to documents in the Jefferson County Clerk's Office obtained Thursday by The Herald-Mail, Jefferson Utilities would be allowed to "excavate for, lay (and) install" water and sewer lines in the School House Ridge area of the park under an easement agreement.

Although the easement agreement was drawn up between the former owner of the property and Jefferson Utilities, the rights were conveyed to Jefferson Utilities when the land was later acquired by the National Park Service, Cassell said.

A spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust dismissed Cassell's comments Thursday.

Civil War Preservation Trust spokesman Jim Campi asked that if Cassell was so sure of his client's legal standing, why the work to lay the lines occured over the weekend, and during the night at times, when there were no federal authorities around.

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"That doesn't sound like the actions of an honest human being," Campi said.

The Civil War Preservation Trust purchased property in the School House Ridge area and turned it over to the park.

Jefferson Utilities laid about 2,000 feet of water and sewer lines on park property along U.S. 340 south of Harpers Ferry which is designed to serve about 179 homes in the Sheridan housing development near C.W. Shipley Elementary School, Cassell said.

The work has resulted in a flurry of e-mails from people raising objections.

James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, said members of his group were horrified over the construction and Joy Oakes said Americans have a right to expect that land protected by the National Park Service cannot be bulldozed without an orderly review.

Oakes is spokeswoman for the National Parks Conservation Association, which helped bring segments of the local community together in support of an expansion of the park which included School House Ridge.

Park Superintendent Donald Campbell said Jefferson Utilities needed a special permit to lay the water and sewer lines. Park officials were considering the permit 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 night, Campbell said.

Campbell said his staff has been consulting with U.S. Attorneys offices in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Wheeling, W.Va., and other federal officials on how to proceed in the matter.

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

It remained the largest military capture until World War II, Civil War experts said.

School House Ridge is considered to be the most significant battlefield in West Virginia because 37,000 troops were involved in Jackson's siege, Civil War experts say.

No other West Virginia battle involved that many troops.

Cassell questioned Thursday how historic the ground was where the water and sewer lines were laid. Cassell said the area where the lines were laid was where 14 feet of dirt was excavated to create the foundation for the four-lane U.S. 340 when it was being built in the 1970s.

"I'm not sure how the historians have missed that fact. They are not telling people about that," Cassell said.

A man was cited Wednesday evening for using a metal detector to relic hunt in the dirt that was dug up for the water and sewer lines, Campbell said Thursday.

Campbell said the man found a Civil War artifact, although he did not have additional details.

"This is precisely why a permit is required," Campi said.




For more information



The Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association issued a statement this week in response to the decision by Jefferson Utilities, a private utility company, to lay water and sewer lines through a section of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

For a copy of the joint statement, go to http://www.civilwar.org/PressReleases/PressDetail.asp?lngPressID=131

For a map showing the water and sewer lines installed on park land, go to http://www.civilwar.org/news/append/harpersferrymap.pdf

For the latest news on battlefield preservation, visit CWPT's online newsroom at http://www.civilwar.org/news/

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