Citizens voice concerns over purchase
CHARLES TOWN – It was standing room only in the Charles Town Library’s meeting room Wednesday evening, with about 40 people attending a public hearing hosted by the Jefferson County Commission regarding a property acquisition.
The property in question, located near Shepherdstown, was where the Battle of Shepherdstown – the closing battle of the Civil War’s Maryland Campaign – occurred, and it is currently home to what remains of an historic cement mill.
The Jefferson County Commission must decide whether or not to contribute $100,000 of county money towards the acquisition of the property. The property would then, ideally, be entered into the process to add it to the National Park Service as an addition to either Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or the Antietam National Battlefield.
The state has already allocated two $100,000 grants, which require matching local funds of $100,000, to the project, and the Civil War Trust would donate $100,000 to help acquire the property as well. The state grants will expire at the end of June, which means the commission must decide what to do by then.
More than 20 people spoke at the hearing, and the vast majority expressed their support for the commission to use the $100,000 to help acquire the property. The commission has also, in previous years, supported acquisition.
Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, represents Shepherdstown in the state legislature and was instrumental in securing the state grant monies for the project.
“I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of the people in the Shepherdstown area want this battlefield preserved,” Doyle said during the hearing. “I believe, if we make this decision and we move forward and we preserve this to become part of the Antietam Battlefield national park, history will praise our wisdom. If we do not, I am convinced that history will seriously question our judgment.”
Doyle also said that, while it would not be his first choice to do so because other causes and organizations would suffer, he would look at using $25,000 of Community Participation Grant money to help with the property acquisition.
Nicholas Redding, a policy associate with the Civil War Trust, said his organization is eagerly anticipating being able to work with and preserve the property if it is acquired.
“There’s little doubt that the land is deserving of our care, attention and preservation. Now is the time for that preservation,” Redding said during the hearing. “It’s a fitting and permanent way that we will allow for future generations of West Virginians and Americans to appreciate the scene of the bloodiest fight on what today constitutes West Virginia soil.”
While the majority of the comments at the hearing were in support of the commission acquiring the property, Jefferson County resident Beverly Hughes asked the commission not to go forward and supported commissioner Walt Pellish’s proposal to rescind the commission’s $100,000 commitment at a previous meeting.
“This expenditure is neither a reasonable nor valid use of our tax dollars,” Hughes said during the hearing. “I truly don’t believe it to be the case, but if the county has extra funds at this time, I’m quite confident there are meaningful, day-to-day services that could be helped services that positively affect everyone in this county.”
Jefferson County Development Authority President Mark Dyck said that the commission should put the available $300,000 on the table as an offer to the property owner and use the $100,000 of county money to develop the land as a recreational area for residents.
The Jefferson County Commission will have to make a decision on whether or not to use county money in the acquisition by June 30, the last available date for the state grants.