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Vigil marks anniversary of sewer installation on 'hallowed ground'

Group says action desecrated historic land

Group says action desecrated historic land

August 18, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - More than 50 people gathered Friday night at Perry Orchard near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to mark the one-year anniversary of what they called a desecration of historical land.

"This is hallowed ground. Now, sewer runs beneath it," said Scott Faulkner, president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

In August 2006, Jefferson Utilities laid water and sewer lines across the property near the intersection of W.Va. 27 and U.S. 340. The land is owned by Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The lines were installed to serve about 179 houses in the Sheridan housing development.

Several groups, including Faulkner's, have argued that the utility company did not secure the appropriate permits to lay the lines. Those groups met Friday night to hold a candlelight vigil and discuss their frustration with the federal government, which they said should be investigating the matter more quickly.

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Participants lighted torches along the roughly 2,000 yards of land where the lines were laid. Several people said the land needs to be preserved because of its historical significance.

Faulkner said the land was the site of an 1859 attempt by John Brown to incite a slave rebellion.

Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, said he wants to see the U.S. Department of Justice prosecute the utility company, which he said refused to wait for a permit before digging trenches on the land.

Attorney J. Michael Cassell, who is representing Jefferson Utilities, said Friday that his client had a right to do the work.

Cassell said Jefferson Utilities obtained an easement allowing the company to lay the water and sewer lines on the property.

"Any assertions to the contrary are just plain wrong," Cassell said.

Donald Campbell, park superintendent at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, said Friday that the easement agreement, which was drawn up with the property's prior owner, stayed intact when the land was sold to the National Park Service.

But he said additional regulations went into effect when the property became parkland to ensure the work complied with the National Environmental Policy and Historic Preservation acts.

"When you go to construct on land owned by the park service, certain laws will apply," Campbell said.

Jefferson Utilities applied for a permit to install the lines, and the park service put out a notice for public comment. About halfway through the public comment period, the utility company began to dig the trenches, Campbell said.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency are looking into the matter, Campbell said.

Cassell said Friday he was not aware of a federal investigation.

Calls to the U.S. Department of the Interior were not returned Friday.

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