RICHMOND — After months of back and forth with Virginia’s first wind energy facility owners, the Department of Historic Resources has concluded the project’s impacts to the Camp Allegheny Battlefield are significant enough to warrant mitigation.
The 400-foot towers to be constructed by Highland New Wind Development LLC of Harrisonburg, says DHR, will have an adverse impact on the Civil War site in Pocahontas County, W.Va., nearby.
DHR director Kathleen Kilpatrick, in a Nov. 17 letter to the company, said discussions on how to mitigate that impact must continue.
In granting HNWD a state permit for the 38-megawatt facility, the State Corporation Commission attached a number of conditions. One of those was that HNWD work with DHR to protect historic resources.
DHR spent two years waiting for HNWD to provide a visual impact study and archaeological survey so it could determine how the project might affect those resources, but HNWD consistently argued that such studies weren’t necessary, and were too expensive to provide.
Eventually, DHR complained to the SCC that the company was not meeting a condition attached to its permit, and the SCC promptly set a date for an evidentiary hearing on the matter. HNWD, however, twice tried to avoid the hearing by meeting with Kilpatrick and providing more information.
DHR then asked SCC to postpone the hearing indefinitely so it would have time to evaluate what HNWD provided.
Just before Thanksgiving, DHR issued its letter to HNWD concluding mitigation was necessary.
Wednesday, Kilpatrick said DHR remains very concerned about the battlefield as a historic resource. “It’s one of the most pristine battlefields in the nation,” she said. “We will continue to hope for a way to address impacts to it.”
In her letter to HNWD attorney John Flora, Kilpatrick said, “Our primary concern with the visual impact study (provided by HNWD) is that it does not take into account the full nature and extent of the impacted resource. The Camp Allegheny encampment and defensive fortifications, as evidenced by a complex of earthworks and hut and cabin foundations, are only a part of the more extensive Battle of Camp Allegheny/Allegheny Mountain Battlefield landscape.
“As documented by the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Preservation Program in their 2009 update to the 1993 Civil War Sites Advisory Commission’s study, the battlefield also includes the hallowed ground where active engagement took place, as well as avenues of access and egress to and from the field of battle,” she continued. “More specifically, the ABPP battlefield boundary includes not only the area of the Confederate camp, but also areas known through historical documents to be associated with the two Union attacks and the Confederate defense of the summit.”
Kilpatrick said it’s critical that HNWD consider and recognize the broader battlefield boundary. She quoted information from ABPP, which said the eastern part of the battlefield includes an area where Federal troops “first encountered pickets along the Staunton-Parkersburg Pike, where Federal regiments moved east off the turnpike toward the Varner Cemetery … where they deployed in line of battle at the east end of the broad ridge across the summit … and the open land over which the Confederates marched to meet the oncoming enemy and upon which heavy fighting occurred for more than two hours.”
Kilpatrick told The Recorder this week there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the battlefield is. “It’s not just the place called Camp Allegheny,” she said. “The battle that was fought takes its name from (Camp Allegheny)” but the entire battlefield is a much larger area than just the encampment. “It’s not just the specific place called Camp Allegheny,” she said. “We believe (HNWD) needs to acknowledge the entire battlefield boundaries are more than just the fortified area of Camp Allegheny.”
Kilpatrick explained to HNWD that this first battle engagement was field-verified through artifacts found on the site. “The geographical extent of the ABPP-defined battlefield was provided by DHR to HNWD in January of this year and again at our meeting in October, at which time we requested that you consider the entire resource,” she told Flora. “The photo-simulations and lines of sight analyses presented in the visual impact study focus only on the central portion of the battlefield, but should consider all components of the resources, especially its eastern portion closest to the project.”
She said that in order for HNWD to “meaningfully address” impacts to the battlefield, there needs to be a clear understanding not only of its components, but “also of its significance and integrity.”
HNWD’s visual study, she said, lacks “an appreciation of the (battlefield’s) integrity, specifically its integrity of location, setting, and feeling which are particularly relevant when considering battlefield landscapes.”
She gave Flora excerpts from the National Park Service’s bulletins on evaluating the integrity of historic resources for reference.
“The battlefield’s location and setting at the top of Allegheny is significant because of its strategic situation astride the Staunton- Parkersburg Turnpike at a critical pass through Buffalo Ridge,” she explained. “Integrity of feeling is a measure of a battlefield’s expression of a particular period of time. Our own visit to the battlefield confirmed a relative lack of modern intrusion on the historic landscape and its ability to convey to the visitor the sense of where, why, and how the battle took place. Integrity is a key aspect to the ABPP’s definition of a resource’s potential National Register boundary, and although only the portion of the battlefield that contains the obvious above-ground features is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the ABPP recommends that nearly the entire battlefield is eligible for listing.”
DHR accepts the ABPP’s conclusion and, she said, “We agree with the ABPP that the battlefield retains a significant degree of integrity and continues to convey those aspects that make it significant.”
After considering all available information, Kilpatrick wrote, “It is our opinion that the HNWD project will have an adverse effect on the battlefield by diminishing the integrity of the battlefield’s setting and feeling. The introduction of nineteen 400-foot turbines on two prominent landforms visible from the battlefield will significantly impact the historic character of the cultural landscape … reduce its ability to convey a sense of the scene encountered by Union and Confederate troops on the morning of Dec. 13, 1861, and impair the visitor’s experience of the (place).”
DHR acknowledged HNWD’s efforts to minimize impacts to the battlefield but, Kilpatrick said, “the cited geophysical limitations of the site, project economics, and county-imposed constraints are arguably pre-existing conditions to this mitigation effort rather than purposeful efforts to address the impacts of the project on the battlefield.”
HNWD had argued that the 1,600-foot setback requirement, placed by Highland County as a condition on the local permit granted to HNWD, made moving the turbines impossible.
But Kilpatrick said, “We must note that if the county-imposed 1,600-foot setback was uniformly applied without exception, the three westernmost towers on Tamarack Ridge would not be included in this project, substantially reducing the project’s effect on the battlefield.”
DHR recommended “further discussions” between its officials, HNWD, and “affected stakeholders” on mitigation strategies.
“These efforts should be reasonable and proportionate to the scale of the project, significance of the affected resources, and severity of the impact, and should result in a direct benefit to the battlefield to offset the adverse impact,” she said. “Provided that all parties could agree to the terms of a mitigation package and execute a memorandum of agreement enabling the package, implementation of mitigation could be phased.”
As for details of an archaeological study HNWD provided the agency, Kilpatrick said DHR accepted it as a “minimal effort” to evaluate the potential impacts to archaeological resources.
“Information gained through our own on-site inspection of portions of the project area supports, in general, the conclusions reached by (HNWD’s) consultant,” she wrote. “Utilization of this information was critical due to the limited nature of the information provided in the report. However, based on our own knowledge of the area and the information provided by HNWD, it appears that impacts to intact, significant archaeological sites are unlikely. If changes are made to the placement of any ground-disturbing activity and the new location has not previously been surveyed, we recommend additional investigations to ensure the continued consideration of archaeological resources. Furthermore, if unanticipated archaeological materials are encountered during construction, all work in the immediate area should cease and our office contacted to provide guidance on the treatment of the discovery.”
Richard Laska, who lives near the battlefield, was encouraged by DHR’s conclusions.
“The Virginia Department of Historic Resources used technical terms, but its message is clear — building HNWD’s turbines next to Camp Allegheny will ruin ‘the setting and feeling’ of that historic site,” he said Wednesday, adding that DHR “says that HNWD does not understand the ’significance and integrity’ of Camp Allegheny — perhaps the nation’s best-preserved Civil War battlefield. The company has shown little respect for ‘hallowed ground’ where hundreds of Americans shed their blood. Why, then, do Highland County supervisors expect the company to respect mere verbal promises?
“Some counties in West Virginia, which had expected a lot of revenue from wind energy, have gotten little or nothing,” he said. “It’s time the Highland County Board of Supervisors got the message — the folks they’re dealing with on the wind project require close supervision. That is exactly what supervisors are elected to do. Winter’s construction halt offers a great opportunity to set things right. County supervisors should withdraw the construction permit and not reissue that permit until there is a clear agreement, in writing, on the minimum amount of money Highland will get from HNWD. Otherwise the wind company can refuse to pay any taxes at all — as has already happened with some other industrial wind projects. If Highland County has nothing in writing, that is exactly what the county could get. Nothing. Without a written contract, Highland County can expect only two things — higher electric bills and higher federal taxes. For example, next month electric bills in Pocahontas County will go up 15 percent, partly to subsidize industrial wind projects. Highland is next.
“In their first year of operation, in addition to the revenue they get from actually selling electricity, HNWD could collect about $26 million, tax free, out of federal coffers. They don’t deny this fact. Since when is it acceptable in the United States of America to subsidize the super-rich by increasing the burden on the middle class? Only people who have neither knowledge of, nor respect for, American history could support such imperial tyranny. The voters should require their elected representatives to represent the interests of all the people.”
Dawn Barrett, another nearby landowner on Allegheny Mountain, shared Laska’s concerns. “Absent the withdrawal of Highland County’s conditional use permit or the Virginia SCC’s certificate, HNWD does not have to do anything to mitigate visual impact on Camp Allegheny. DHR has no power to compel HNWD to act,” she said. Barrett noted SCC’s final order on HNWD’s permit requires the company to coordinate with DHR, but “only the SCC hearing examiner can require HNWD to do what DHR recommends,” she said. “If no hearing occurs, DHR’s recommendations are merely that.”
As for DHR’s suggestion that HNWD enter into an agreement that would directly benefit the battlefield to mitigate the project’s impacts, Barrett is opposed to that idea. “I am confident that this is a reference to the precedent-setting MOU recently entered into by the West Virginia Department of Culture and History and Pinnacle Wind Force, whereby Susan Pierce (agency director) agreed, over the vocal objections of the Mineral County historical society and local residents, to accept $10,000 as compensation for the wind company’s impact on 18 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Such an MOU may well seem to be the ideal way for both HNWD and DHR to save face — throwing the public, or at least the media, a bone, so to speak, while at the same time avoiding a public hearing — a goal to which both DHR and HNWD seem equally devoted. I myself don’t think $10,000 is rational ‘compensation’ to Pocahontas County, or the nation, for the adverse impact of 19, 400-foot-tall wind turbines on Camp Allegheny. My personal belief is that no amount of money can compensate for the senseless destruction of a place recognized and revered not only for its historical meaning but for its scenic beauty and remote, pristine rarity.”
Wednesday, Kilpatrick explained the setback imposed by Highland was not applied only to property owned by the McBride family, holders of the HNWD company. An easement was granted by an adjoining landowner to allow three towers to be closer than 1,600 feet to the property line. Kilpatrick said DHR considered this a pre-existing condition.
DHR’s Roger Kirchen noted the agency did not do its own analysis of the distance from those towers to the battlefield boundaries; DHR is more interested in impact, not distance.
Kilpatrick stressed DHR has not speculated as to what kind of mitigation efforts might be suitable. “It was just an introduction of the concept,” she said.
As for who might be involved as a “stakeholder” in further discussions, Kilpatrick said DHR might make some recommendations but has not identified those at this point. She and Kirchen said stakeholders should include those with a genuine interest in the battlefield, like the U.S. Forest Service, the West Virginia Department of Culture and History, the American Battlefields Protection Program, and neighboring property owners.
DHR has not received a reply to its letter yet, but Kilpatrick said she would not be surprised if HNWD took about 30 days to respond. “I fully expect a continuing dialogue,” she said.
She did not know whether an SCC hearing would be rescheduled. “Our most recent request to the SCC did not set a date,” she said. “It’s important not to set an arbitrary time. We think we could be ready to respond
By Anne Adams
3 December 2009