- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Preservationists said Tuesday that they would apply corporate pressure to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to abandon plans for a Supercenter near a famed Civil War battlefield, despite local approval of the store.

A coalition of preservation groups organized by the Civil War Preservation Trust said it would attempt to appeal to the “corporation’s best interests” to find a site farther away from the Wilderness Battlefield in Locust Grove.

“Wal-Mart better understands the nationwide anger generated by its proposal to build on the doorstep of a national park,” the trust’s president, James Lighthizer, said after Orange County supervisors voted 4-1 to allow the company to build. “The battle is not over.”

While preservationists waged a national campaign against Wal-Mart, enlisting celebrities, politicians and historians in their cause, it didn’t seem to trickle down to the 32,000 residents of rural Orange County.

Local officials bridled at what they called outsiders attempting to dictate local land use and property rights issues.

“It didn’t do them any good to have 2,500 or 3,000 people from across the country mail form letters to the board,” Supervisor R. Mark Johnson, one of the more outspoken supporters of the Wal-Mart proposal, said after Tuesday’s vote. “That did them no good whatsoever. It probably hurt them.”

At a four-hour hearing Monday before the board vote, local residents seeking jobs, bargain merchandise and an economic boost for the county trumped Civil War re-enactors in period dress, including a woman in a hoop skirt, and preservation leaders who wanted the store moved farther from the battlefield.

The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has 253 historians on its side, actor Robert Duvall, Gov. Tim Kaine and lawmakers, but it struggled to explain why a Wal-Mart in an area with two strip malls would threaten a battlefield where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met 145 years ago.

The coalition argued that while the 55-acre parcel, where the 138,000-square-foot store will rise, is not within the Wilderness’s 2,773 protected acres, it is part of the historic footprint of the battle, where 29,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or injured.

The store, it said, would bring an unrelenting parade of traffic and more commerce to an area less than a half-mile from the park’s entrance.

Wal-Mart disputed the preservationists’ pitch, and instead focused on selling the economic benefits the store would deliver to this county 50 miles southwest of Washington.

The preservationists, Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris said, “chose to fight on a national level instead of a local level. Right or wrong, our standpoint was from day one was sitting down and listening to the concerns of local Orange residents.”

Mr. Lighthizer said in a statement that the trust and coalition members are studying strategies to pressure Wal-Mart into walking away from the Wilderness Battlefield.

“We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere,” he said.

But Mr. Morris ruled that out.

“It’s clear that the public has spoken and there is considerable support for the store at the site,” he said. “We would like to continue our open dialogue with these groups but they appear to have other motives.”

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