SVBF aims to protect local battlefields

The Valley Banner

HARRISONBURG — The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation is working to protect nearly 1,600 acres on land bordering the Cross Keys and Port Republic battlefields in Rockingham County.

Last week, the foundation applied for about $12 million in funding through the Du-Pont-Waynesboro Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration settlement.

The money would pay landowners for conservation easements to protect the historic land.

DuPont, a company that once operated a textile manufacturing plant in Waynesboro, is required to pay about $42 million for restoration projects after the facility poured mercury into the South River.

Conservation easements restrict what can be done on properties, said John Hutchinson, director of conservation for the battlefields foundation.

The main restrictions limit what can be built on the property and whether it can be subdivided in the future, he said. Easements are permanent, even if the land is sold.

In exchange, if the property owners agree to the easement, they are compensated in thousands of dollars per acre, Hutchinson said.

The battlefields foundation wants easements in place to require landowners to improve water quality, he said, and help reverse some of the damage caused by DuPont. The easements would require landowners to fence their cattle out of streams and plant vegetation along the banks to slow erosion, among other things.

The battlefields foundation has been protecting land on the two battlefi elds and eight others up and down the Valley since 2001, Hutchinson said.

The two engagements, first at Cross Keys and then at Port Republic, took place on June 8-9, 1862. They were decisive victories of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, part of his 1862 Valley Campaign.

“The Cross Keys and the Port Republic battlefields are two of the most important battlefields in the country,” Hutchinson said. “They’re very important historic resources.”

The foundation has spoken with 16 landowners, primarily farmers, about the easements and received the goahead to apply, Hutchinson said.

If the money is received, the foundation will speak with the landowners again, determine the fair market value of the easement and make an offer to purchase the easement.

The foundation submitted 17 applications last week for money to purchase seven properties and pay for 12 easements, Hutchinson said.

If the foundation purchases the seven properties, it would put conservation easements on those lands as well, he said. The foundation plans to build public trails on the purchased properties and rent the farmland out to the community.

Partner Needed
If the money is awarded, the foundation needs a partner to share the responsibility in enforcing the easements.

“The battlefields foundation is eligible to apply for these funds,” Hutchinson said, “but we have to have a state agency or local government partner to hold easements on the property with us.”

Last Wednesday, the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors approved a letter of endorsement for the grant application for settlement funding. But the board did not commit to holding the easements, which would require the board to take responsibility in enforcing the terms of the document. Hutchinson said this would require the government or state entity to visit the property annually to ensure the easement’s restrictions are being adhered to.

Supervisors Pablo Cuevas, Mike Breeden, Rick Chandler, Bill Kyger and Fred Eberly voted in favor of the letter. The board did not reach a consensus on the proposal last month and stewed over the information Hutchinson presented.

The sticky issue was co-holding the easements, which some supervisors were afraid would put the county in murky legal waters.

The foundation will ask two state agencies — Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation — to co-hold the easements if the money is awarded. Those agencies hold most conservation easements in the commonwealth, Hutchinson said, but if they do not agree, then the foundation will ask the county again.

The DuPont Waynesboro Trustee Council will decide on each application in November or December.

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