Virginia’s industrial wind and the “lessons learned” at Gettysburg.

The article today in The Roanoke Times online edition says simply:  “SCC gives go-ahead for wind farm project in Highland County – The state agency dismissed a complaint regarding its “negative impact” on a viewshed.”

A viewshed? … a “negative impact” on a viewshed? Wow!  That’s it?  It seems an odd tribute to the friends of Camp Allegheny and a fight well fought, that all their efforts to protect a Civil War Battlefield listed in the National Register of Historic Places, earns a casual two sentences in the article.  For despite all their work, and the pleas from both the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the West Virginia State Historical Preservation Office the conclusion, it appears, was foregone.

Ignored, along with other testimony was the conclusion reached by Ms. Kathleen Kilpatrick, Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR):  “After consideration of all available information 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.

It seems Virginia, bowing to the chant of renewable at any cost, has joined its neighboring states in the blind rush to meet politically motivated goals born in a green inspired greed and nurtured by an ignorance of science.

Virginia, by so casually tossing aside the visual intrusion on historic Camp Allegheny by these massive tinker-toys, these “Edsels of modern energy,” caused me to to recall a much happier time some 200 miles to the north – July 3, 2000 – Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield, Gettysburg PA.

The parallels are striking!  The arguments so similar! A commercial enterprise pitted against a reverence for history.  Government agencies acting as … well time will tell.

But oh, what a fine scrape it was, that time in Gettysburg!  I lived some 20 miles east of the sacred Battlefield for much of the time leading up to this grand event and remember it well.  Perhaps you’ll also recall the 26 year fight to remove a single 300 foot privately owned observation tower bordering the Gettysburg Battlefield National Park which was brought to the ground shortly after 5 pm on that glorious day.  Yes, all that fuss over a single tower 300 feet tall!  Two Presidents, Governors, National Societies, Newspapers, and all manner of the great and powerful of the nation!  Interesting when you consider that the industrial wind farm Virginia finds acceptable will place 19 turbines towering 400 feet above the ridge along the West Virginia border.

To get a sense of how far we’ve fallen in our willingness to sacrifice heritage for commercialism, it’s worth reviewing a few comments about the much despised observation tower at Gettysburg:

  • USA Today labeled it “the ugliest commercial structure to ever intrude on the sanctity of a national park.”
  • The New York Times labeled it “a new low in historical tastelessness”
  • George Hartzog, then director of the National Park Service (NPS), called the tower proposal “monstrous,” and “an environmental insult.”
  • Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton described the tower “the most damaging single intrusion ever visited upon a comparable site of American history.”
  • A NPS study reported that “the 300 foot high, private observation tower sited here visually intrudes upon both this area and the entire park. Removal of the tower is the only option for restoring this part of the battlefield’s integrity.”
  • On the tower’s destruction, Barbara Finfrock, president of the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, aptly summed it up: “Now, when we look at the battlefield, we will see nothing … which means we will be able to see everything.”

What a remarkably respectful comment:  “Now, when we look at the battlefield, we will see nothing … which means we will be able to see everything.”

Yes, it was a grand old time in Gettysburg on that July 3, 2000, when shortly after 5 pm two civil war cannons fired.  A mere three seconds later 12 pounds of explosives brought the structure to the ground … 26 years after it was built, on the edge of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

I’m providing at the end of this piece an extremely important historical record from the George Wright Society, written by Mr. John Latschar of the NPS, which covers the Gettysburg observation tower from its inception to its destruction.  This should be required reading for any group determined to protect our heritage from the uncontrolled spread of industry.  The “lessons learned” section deserve special emphasis so I’ll take the liberty to highlight it here for your attention and encouragement.  Interesting to note that the writer titled this section Lessons Learned with a question mark.  Could he have been looking into the future … some 200 miles to the South?

Lessons Learned?

When reviewing the short and lurid career of the National Tower at Gettysburg, at least two “lessons learned” seem to be worth noting.  The first is rather simple: with the impetus and sanction of a secretarial initiative, and enough smart people willing to work hard enough, anything is possible.  Although this “lesson” may seem patently obvious, it bears repeating for it should strengthen the hearts and heighten the resolve of everyone engaged in the never-ending struggle for the preservation of our nation’s precious resources.  As Richard Moe remarked on that momentous day, “Sometimes we can correct the mistakes of the past.”

The second lesson, although equally obvious, may be more difficult to apply. Simply put, it’s worth the time and effort to do things right the first time—even though the cost or the effort “doing right” may often seem daunting.  If NPS and the Department of the Interior had stood more strongly against the building of the tower in the early days, it might not have happened.  However, instead of standing on our collective principles, we opted for “compromise,” with disastrous results.  In trying to explain to Governor Shapp why NPS had abandoned the fight against the tower, the agency explained that its agreement with Ottenstein was based upon the belief that it could do nothing to stop the tower.  The Pennsylvania attorney general tried to sell this point of view to the court, stating that the agreement “can only be viewed as a decision on the part of the federal government to make the best of a bad situation, not as an explicit or even implicit sanction of the tower.”  The judge, like most others following the case, was not persuaded. In his final ruling, he wrote that “the plain language of the [NPSOttenstein]  agreement does sanction the erection of the tower proposed in these proceedings at the site specified….”  Indeed, how could he have reasoned otherwise, since that agreement gave Ottenstein a right-of-way across NPS lands into the proposed tower site?

Of course, we’ll never know if the opponents of the construction of the tower would have prevailed, had NPS and the Department of the Interior remained steadfast in opposition instead of compromising.  But in retrospect, it certainly seems like a battle worth fighting.  At the very least, we would have been as proud of the role of our agency in opposition to the construction of the tower as we are in its ultimate destruction.

What follows is the complete commentary called “The Taking of the Gettysburg Tower

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2 Responses to Virginia’s industrial wind and the “lessons learned” at Gettysburg.

  1. Frank O'Hara says:

    “Now, when we look at the battlefield, we will see nothing … which means we will be able to see everything.”

    What a beautiful comment.

    The Allegheny Front is a unique uplifting geological formation that defines our community. It is remains a significant rural resource.

    Defining what is important is often difficult because we take for granted. It is crucial the public become aware of the need to protect and manage the Allegheny Front cultural, ecological, historical, human and recreational resources. The individuals and families living here for generations shaped the physical distinction of Keyser and surrounding areas.

    The past activities, our desires and our needs have left a lasting imprint. The Allegheny Front represents open space, and this space manifests itself not only in the buildings, the structures surrounding Keyser – New Creek valley.

    We must think beyond protecting historical property, but also managing our natural resources and landscapes. Landscapes provide meaning.

    Traditionally historical property surveys consider only buildings, but it can include distinct areas, vista or historical scenic views.

    If you look at a single historical structure we often see nothing. If we survey the entire area, as distinct communities are we able to see everything. The landscape provides context and meaning.

    Keyser is an unique industrial town, with historical underpinnings to railroad and manufacturing. Agriculture and forestry economies define New Creek and Potomac Valley. These two areas are inseparable. The provide community meaning. They deserve national recognition.

    The rational for protecting the entire Allegheny Front deserves consideration. It plays a unique ecological role and also for cutlural-historical importance. The Allegheny Front is a major migratory flyway. We cannot seperate this aspect.

    Effective rural conservation and management requires preserving both the built and the natural environment. The Allegheny Front remains an inseparable part of community character and heritage. This mountain landscape provides the backdrop how we define our lives and what we believe.

    Join Allegheny Front Alliance: email.

    Become a voice. Your support and contributions say I support a CLEAR VIEW.

  2. Pingback: Camp Allegheny Battlefield Nominated for the 2011 Most Endangered Historic Sites Listing | Allegheny Treasures

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