Cedar Creek Supporters Lose Mine Rezoning Battle
By Deborah Fitts
MIDDLETOWN, Va. — In a bitter blow to supporters of the Cedar Creek battlefield, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors voted May 28 to expand a limestone-mining operation across hundreds of acres of core battlefield.
“We were horribly disappointed,” said Wendy Hamilton, president of the local group Preserve Frederick. Jim Campi, spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), warned that the supervisors’ decision could cast a pall over future preservation efforts at Cedar Creek.
The 4-3 vote by the supervisors OK’d a request by O-N Minerals Chemstone to rezone 394 acres from agricultural use to mining. The approval allows Chemstone to expand both north and south of its current mining operation at Cedar Creek.
Campi, who has worked closely with Preserve Frederick and a coalition of preservation groups, noted that on the northern part of the rezoned land, Union cavalry under George Custer struck the exposed left flank of the Confederate line at the climax of the battle, Oct. 19, 1864.
But now, said Hamilton, the existing mine plus the newly rezoned areas would enable Chemstone to create “a 2.5- to 3-mile hole in the ground.” O-N Minerals Chemstone is a subsidiary of Carmeuse Lime & Stone, based in Belgium.
Hamilton’s group worked for two years to defeat the rezoning. CWPT was a strong ally, but the coalition also included the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the new Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, among others.
Preserve Frederick hired a professional planner and last August came up with “Plan B.” It called for canceling the rezoning on the area to the north of the current operation, where much of the Union counterattack occurred.
The rezoning would have been allowed only in the area to the south, which is already heavily impacted visually by the existing mine. The plan also called for 200-foot buffers to protect Cedar Creek and screen the mining from adjacent landowners.
Hamilton said the compromise never received serious consideration.
“We did everything by the letter,” she said. “We left the emotion out of it. We were very respectful. We let everybody know what we were doing. And we got harshly criticized.
“This will be extremely disappointing to those who truly care about preserving this hallowed ground.”
Just days before the supervisors’ vote, Chemstone reduced its rezoning request from 639 acres to 394, in an apparent bid to win support. But Hamilton said the acreage that was removed from the rezoning was not slated for mining anyway: “They basically put a belt around the 639 acres and sucked it all into 394 acres. It did no good.”
National Park Threat
Preserve Frederick wasn’t the only member of the coalition to attempt a compromise. Diann Jacox, superintendent at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, was concerned about the impact of the rezoning on her park.
“Significant parts of the battlefield will be consumed,” Jacox said. “This is going to be very visible to us.” While the park so far owns only 7.5 acres, its 3,500-acre boundary adjoins Chemstone. (The park does not encompass Chemstone land because the company “did not want to be within the boundary,” Jacox explained.)
In April Jacox met with Gary Lofton, the county supervisor for the district that includes the battlefield. She offered to hire a facilitator to broker a compromise between the preservation groups and Chemstone.
Lofton appeared supportive, and over the next month Jacox got pledges from coalition members totaling $6,000 — enough to get started.
But Jacox said at the final supervisors’ meeting, Lofton announced that hiring a facilitator was “a terrible idea.” He was one of the four votes in favor of Chemstone. “I think he just changed his mind,” she said.
The rezoning, Jacox said, would result in an even greater visual impact on the land within the park boundary. “The mine is not a pleasant sight to see, and now it will expand — onto acreage that could have been preserved. We have provided no protection for the battlefield.”
Howard Kittell, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, also expressed disappointment over the outcome. And the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns the house-museum Belle Grove, a battlefield landmark, rapped Chemstone.
In a letter to the local paper, the Trust’s Southern Field Office Director Robert Nieweg wrote that in 2006, when the Frederick County Planning Commission recommended against the rezoning, they “asked the quarry to open a meaningful dialogue” with adjacent landowners.
Chemstone, however, “didn’t follow through,” Nieweg said, “and instead essentially ignored its neighbors and their constructive objections to the quarry’s rezoning application.”
CCBF Makes a Deal
One month before the board’s vote, the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation (CCBF) stunned the other members of the coalition by striking its own deal with Chemstone. The nonprofit owns about 300 acres in two parcels on either side of Belle Grove.
Under the legal agreement, Chemstone could preserve as much as 50 acres of battlefield. It will also hand any artifacts found on the rezoned property over to CCBF. (One of Chemstone’s proffers to the supervisors was to undertake an archeological study.) The foundation intends to display the artifacts as the “Carmeuse Collection.”
Chemstone also agreed to move piles of spoil and build berms as much as 30 feet in height, planted with trees, to conceal visible intrusions from CCBF land. The spoil piles and other signs of the mining have long been an eyesore for CCBF’s annual October reenactment. When it came time for the supervisors to consider the rezoning, CCBF took no position.
Foundation board member Tim Stowe said it was his idea to approach Chemstone. The foundation didn’t support Plan B. While the plan would have blocked the rezoning at the northern end of the existing mine, it would have allowed mining to expand at the southern end — adjacent to foundation property.
“Our deal that we cut with the quarry was independent of the rezoning,” Stowe said. “We didn’t have any strong feelings one way or the other (about the rezoning), so long as we took care of our interest.”
He added, “I don’t know why the other groups didn’t sit down with the quarry. Our goal was to move preservation forward for the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, and my feeling is that we did.”
By the agreement, Chemstone was to donate to the foundation within 60 days an 8-acre parcel near Belle Grove that had long been identified as historic due to associated mills and other structures no longer standing. “We did not go asking for the 8 acres,” Stowe said. “They wanted to donate it to a preservation group, and they chose to give it to us.”
(CWPT’s Campi said Plan B would have provided “a generous buffer” at the southern end, to protect adjoining properties. The 8-acre parcel would have fallen inside the buffer.)
Chemstone also agreed to undertake an archeological study of Middletown Woods, an area at the north end of the quarry. Although it is more than a mile from the closest CCBF land, Stowe said, their board members had done archeology there previously and were familiar with it. Stowe described it as “a triage area” during the battle, where the wounded were laid out for medical attention.
The agreement also calls for Chemstone to pay for a cultural resource study to be led by Dr. Clarence Geire, with students from James Madison University. Chemstone agreed that if there is additional property near the 8-acre parcel and at Middletown Woods that is deemed to have “historical significance,” Chemstone will donate the land to the foundation. Stowe estimated the total possible donation at 50 acres.
“This is the richest limestone deposit in the country,” said Stowe. “We felt that sooner or later it was going to get rezoned. This way at least we get something preserved, and the mounds removed, and archeological studies done.”
Hamilton, of Preserve Frederick, said she was “truly disappointed” with CCBF. She said their deal with Chemstone “weighed very heavily” in the supervisors’ decision (Stowe disagreed, contending it had no effect).
“However many acres they get,” Hamilton said of CCBF, it was not an “acceptable exchange” for the acres of core battlefield that will now be lost due to rezoning. If the board had turned Chemstone down, she noted, the Civil War Preservation Trust would have stepped in with an offer to purchase.
CWPT Makes Offer
Indeed, sensing that the supervisors might opt for the rezoning, CWPT made a last-ditch offer five days before the vote.
“As part of a potential compromise,” Trust Chairman Todd Sedgwick wrote to the Board of Supervisors, if they tabled or rejected the rezoning, “CWPT would be willing to consider acquisition of all or part of the property in question.”
But now, said Campi, Chemstone has no incentive to sell. The value of the limestone on the rezoned land is estimated at $300 million.
Still, within days of the vote CWPT wrote to Chemstone asking to sit down and discuss a purchase. Campi said the Trust would likely focus on Chemstone land that had not been rezoned.
All in all, said Campi, the rezoning represents “one of the bigger losses” in recent years by the Civil War preservation community. The effect at Cedar Creek will be insidious and far-reaching, he suggested.
“It’s going to have a significant impact on the battlefield,” Campi said. But equally important, “It’s going to affect future preservation efforts at Cedar Creek,” since preservationists may be reluctant to acquire battlefield land in the shadow of a mining operation.