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Mill’s future uncertain

By Staff | Apr 15, 2011

(Chronicle photo by Tricia Fulks) The cement mill sits on almost 18 acres along the Potomac River just outside of Shepherdstown. Martin Burke, county historic landmarks commissioner, said many other interested buyers have approached the owner of the property.

One area delegate has promised funds to put towards the purchase of the cement mill property along River Road in Shepherdstown.

Though Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he won’t have community participation projects funds until a year from now, he plans to commit most of the CPP discretionary funds – about $25,000 or more, depending up how much he is allotted – to the purchase of the property.

“I am convinced that making the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown part of the Antietam Battlefield National Historic Park is critical to the economic future of Jefferson County and, indeed, of West Virginia,” Doyle said.

But not every elected official is on the same page as far as the purchase of the property and its impact for the town.

At a Feb. 24 Jefferson County Commission meeting, Commissioner Walt Pellish, Shepherdstown’s representative, moved to inform the owner of the property that the county was no longer interested in purchasing the property, according to the meeting’s minutes. At the same meeting, Commissioner Dale Manuel asked that more information be brought to the table.

“The county commission – we’re not united at all,” said Commissioner Lyn Widmyer.

She looks at the issue two ways. She said while it would be beneficial for the county to own green space along the river, the county does not have the funds to cover the maintenance costs.

“That’s where Antietam comes in,” Widmyer said.

She said she is hopeful to form a partnership with the national park so it can eventually take over the area.

“I, in good conscious, can’t take taxpayer dollars and buy something and then give it away,” Pellish said in an April 5 interview.

The total funds to purchase the property equals approximately $400,000. The county set aside $100,000 of that total, Pellish said.

“I believe in historic preservation. That’s not the issue,” he said. “The issue for me is $100,000.”

According to Ed Dunleavy, president of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association, his group applied for two West Virginia Transportation Enhancement grants at $100,000 each, which was then given to the county to administer the purchase of the land. Dunleavy said that the Civil War Trust has also agreed to provide matching funds, totaling $100,000. He said, however, that the grant and matching funds are only available through June 30 of this year.

Martin Burke, a member of the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission who has worked towards the purchase of the mill, said that if the property is purchased, it would be county owned for a period of time and then given to the National Parks Service.

According to Ed Wenschhof, acting superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield, the area is defined within the Battle of Shepherdstown. But NPS must conduct a survey to find the historical significance of the land to determine if it should be included in Antietam or Harpers Ferry’s park.

Wenschhof said NPS hopes to begin the study soon, but it will not be completed this calendar year. Once the study is finished, then NPS can go about adjusting boundaries for the appropriate park either legislatively or administratively.

Wenschhof said Antietam already tells the story of the Battle of Shepherdstown at Antietam; however, if the area were to become part of the national battlefield, Antietam could look into ways of connecting the two sites and making it part of the active tour.

“The potential for tourism is great,” Burke said.

Doyle said that Maryland “promotes the dickens” out of Antietam, and the state and Jefferson County would be “along for the ride” if the property became part of the neighboring battlefield.

Pellish doesn’t agree.

“I don’t think it would serve as an attraction of any sort,” he said.

Pellish said he does not think much more tourism money would come to the area if the Antietam acquires the area. He said some of the tourists from that national park might come to Shepherdstown’s restaurants and shops anyways to provide business.

Until then, the county is awaiting the acceptance of the appraisal of the land by the state Department of Highways, which was appraised at $339,000. The Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Commission had the original appraisal done.

According to Paul Marshall, president of the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Commission, in late 2009 Dunleavy approached the body to take the lead in purchasing the cement mill property. But last June Parks and Rec voted to not proceed with the purchase – even after paying to have the appraisal done.

“It became obvious to us that we would be over our heads in the maintenance of the structure,” Marshall said.

He said if it became a piece of public property, it would cost a lot of money to maintain.

Burke said once the parks board no longer pursued purchased, the county commission took it on. This was before Pellish was elected in November.

For Pellish, the issue remains a misuse of taxpayer funds. And as far as historic preservation goes?

“I leave that up to the preservationists,” he said.