A few days ago, I received my latest copy of Civil War News. There was a front page article titled “Interior Department May Pass on Suit at Harpers Ferry Park” and anyone familiar with the happenings there last year can tell what this is about.
During a weekend in August 2006, developers dug a 1900 foot trench through the Perry Orchard tract park of the National Park to lay water and sewer lines to a nearby development. The trench cut through park land on Schoolhouse Ridge.
According to the article, the developers simply dug the trench without notifying anyone, citing a utility easement as their authority. The park argued that a federal permit was required, and the Civil War Preservation Trust (along with many other local and national organizations) and anyone concerned about preservation were horrified.
Now, it appears that the Department of the Interior will not bring a lawsuit against the developers because officials “don’t think they can win” such a suit due to inconsistency in the enforcement of such permits on park land across the country. Because, particularly in western national parks, park officials allow holders of utility easements to undertake work without a permit, the enforcement of such in this case appears impossible.
So, what do we have? Perhaps a precedent set that any developer, with a general easement, could dig anywhere on National Park property without fear of reprisal. Have a sewer line to lay right through the field of Pickett’s Charge? No problem – just dig away and shoo away those pesky preservationists when they object. Have to lay some TV cable along Burnside’s Bridge? Why, get out the bulldozers and have at it.
Hindsight tells us that the Interior Department should have followed regs to begin with, and have all such activities follow a permit process. It now appears that since it hasn’t, a developer with easement in hand has carte blanche to dig where they please. If you don’t scold the dog each time he pees on the rug, he won’t know it’s wrong.