Wal-Mart in court over Civil War site dispute
Last Updated: Monday, January 24, 2011 | 11:30 PM ET
The Associated Press
A dispute over whether a Wal-Mart Supercenter should be built near the site of a Civil War battlefield in northern Virginia is headed to court.
The case pits preservationists and some residents of a rural northern Virginia town against the world's largest retailer and local officials who approved the Wal-Mart Supercenter.A gravestone marker on the spot where the arm of General Stonewall Jackson is buried is near the Ellwood house in Locust Grove, Va. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is defending a planned store near the hallowed site where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met on a battlefield in 1864. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
Both sides are scheduled to make arguments before a judge on Tuesday.
The proposed Wal-Mart is located near the site of the Battle of the Wilderness, which is viewed by historians as a critical turning point in the war. An estimated 185,000 Union and Confederate troops fought over three days in 1864, and 30,000 people were killed, injured or went missing. The war ended 11 months later.
The 143,000-square-foot space planned by the Bentonville, Ark., retailer would be outside the limits of the protected national park where the core battlefield is located. The company has stressed the store would be within an area already dotted with retail locations, and in an area zoned for commercial use.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors in August 2009 approved the special use permit Wal-Mart needed to build, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation and residents who live within 5 km of the site challenged the board's decision.
Store would create 300 jobs
They argued, in part, that supervisors ignored or rejected the help of historians and other preservation experts when they approved the store's construction in Locust Grove about 1.6 kilometres from the national park entrance.
Hundreds of historians, including Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson, filmmaker Ken Burns and actor Robert Duvall have appealed to Wal-Mart to walk away and find another place to build in the county of less than 35,000 people.
McPherson is expected to testify that the store's site and nearby acres were blood-soaked ground and a Union "nerve centre" in the battle.
An attorney representing Orange County argued the board and other officials acted properly and heard the opinions of hundreds of people before approving the store.
"There is no indication that any significant historical event occurred on this land," Sharon E. Pandak wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "No state or federal law precludes development of the site."
In Orange County, many residents and community leaders have welcomed the Supercenter. It would create 300 jobs and tax revenue, and there would be a convenient big-box store in the county.
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