Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Opponents of Walmart Fight to Save Wildneress Battlefield


Preservation groups vow to continue fight against Wilderness Walmart despite Orange supervisors' decision

Date published: 8/26/2009


Preservationists are dismayed by Orange County's approval of the Wilderness Walmart retail center, but aren't conceding defeat.

A national coalition of heritage groups will continue appealing to the retail giant to find an Orange site for its Supercenter that's farther from the Wilderness battlefield. The store site is a quarter-mile from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

"The ball is now in Walmart's court," James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, said yesterday. "Walmart better understands the nationwide anger generated by its proposal to build on the doorstep of a national park.

"It is in the corporation's best interests to work with the preservation community to find an alternative site. We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere."

But Wal-Mart spokesman Keith 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."

Calling the Walmart plan "misguided," Lighthizer said the trust and the other members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition will weigh all options for continuing their campaign.

"This battle is not over yet," he said.

The coalition was joined in its opposition to the Walmart by 253 of the nation's top historians, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, Congressmen Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Peter Welch, D-Vt., the Vermont Legislature, Pulitzer prize-winning authors David McCullough and James McPherson, and TV documentarian Ken Burns.

Asked yesterday whether legal action is now likely, coalition leaders declined to speculate.

But the coalition will be "keeping up the drumbeat of opposition" to the project, said Jim Campi, the Civil War Preservation Trust's director of public policy. He noted that in battlefield controversies elsewhere, preservationists have proven to be tenacious.

"At Brandy Station in Culpeper County, we lost every zoning vote against an industrial park and a Formula One racetrack," Campi said. "But ultimately, we prevailed, and that battlefield is preserved. We're in this for the long haul."