9 Brandy Station Board Members Resign
Over Preservation Concerns
By Scott C. Boyd
(July2011 Civil War News)
BRANDY STATION, Va. - Disappointment with the leadership of the Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) recently led to nine members of the board of directors resigning.
Seven of them left immediately before or after new president Joseph W. McKinney was elected at the group’s April 8 annual meeting.
The eighth resigned on May 19 after the board released a position statement titled “Landowner Improvements and Agricultural Activities.” It is online at www.brandystationfoundation.com
This member told Civil War News he saw the statement as “reneging on” the BSF strategic goals of preserving the historic rural character of Culpeper County and protecting the Brandy Station and Kelly’s Ford battlefields.
The ninth member resigned on June 1 over philosophical differences with the direction the board was taking.
McKinney’s selection by the BSF Nominating Committee as its preferred candidate for president was announced at the board’s March 5 meeting.
His nomination became controversial after a newspaper photo submitted by McKinney, and published on April 1, was interpreted by some to indicate he supported relic hunting — a major taboo in some preservationist circles.
Next, background research on McKinney by skeptics turned up some seemingly anti-preservation sentiments in a 2009 op-ed.
The concern some had about McKinney reached a fever pitch after construction of a pond on a privately owned part of the battlefield.
Relic Hunt Photo
The “Diggin’ in Virginia” 17th annual relic hunt was held at the Beauregard Farm on March 31-April 2. It is privately owned land on the Brandy Station Battlefield.
McKinney’s photo, which was published in the Culpeper Star-Exponent, showed a boy receiving instructions on how to fire a cannon to signal the start of the event.
“This was merely my effort to document an 11-year-old boy having the biggest day of his life,” McKinney said.
McKinney said he was not there in any official capacity, nor did he participate in the relic hunt. He said his sole interest was the original cannon, which was at Brandy Station Battlefield in 1863.
He convinced the owner to bring it from Michigan for the event and asked him to return for the 150th battle anniversary.
The photo struck a raw nerve with some preservationists. A former BSF president wrote McKinney: “BSF must never be seen as supporters of relic hunting. People choose to do it on private property and that’s okay for them. But preservationists abhor the practice.”
Eric Wittenberg’s “Rantings of a Civil War Historian” blog on April 11 claimed McKinney “participated in a relic hunt on the Beauregard farm.”
A board member who resigned said his resignation was “a direct result of Joe McKinney’s involvement in the relic-hunting on hallowed ground,” and one other issue.
McKinney agreed with the suggestion that there may be a “cultural clash” in the BSF between those who oppose relic hunting on privately owned battlefield land and those who don’t.
McKinney’s critics often cite an Aug. 6, 2009, op-ed in The Washington Post. In it he observed that in place of the aborted Walt Disney Company plan of 1993 for a historical theme park near Manassas Battlefield there is now a great deal of commercial and residential development.
“Instead of tourists, the roads — including those running through the Manassas battlefield — are choked with commuters,” he wrote. “Sometimes, as I sit in traffic on the way to Leesburg, I think we might have been better off with the theme park instead of the houses.”
“That leads me to wonder: If Wal-Mart is not acceptable near the Wilderness battlefield, what is? Is a strip mall better than a Wal-Mart? What about 500 single-family dwellings?” he wrote.
McKinney’s op-ed was seen in some quarters as a slap in the face to preservationists, according to background interviews and emails shared with Civil War News.
Tony Troilo owns land on Fleetwood Hill, scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the battle. Until recently, three generations of the Troilo family lived in the mansion on the hill, built in 2007.
In early May, Troilo had bulldozers dig some of his land to put in a pond. He also dammed Flat Run to redirect the water.
The bulldozers and water diversion on Fleetwood Hill caused alarm among some in the preservation community.
While this was going on, Troilo’s father, Joe, who lived in the mansion, died on May 6 and his funeral was May 12.
The BSF, then led by McKinney, did not make any public statement about what Troilo was doing. This brought the scorn of many in the preservation community, including BSF members.
The blog “To the Sound of the Guns” on May 16 posted: “In my view, this should have been a no-brainer. The foundation HAD to say something when the president first gained knowledge of the situation. At a minimum the foundation should have issued a statement of concern and called public attention to the matter. That is what the organization was formed to do.”
Blog author Craig Swain is a retired BSF board member who ended up renouncing his BSF membership altogether on May 18.
McKinney said in an interview, “At some point, I’d probably talk to Tony about the pond. But I wasn’t going to go up to his house and talk to him about the pond on the week that he’s burying his dad.”
Former BSF president Clark “Bud” Hall, however, immediately complained to authorities about what was happening on Fleetwood Hill.
“I think this was not a good thing to happen from a public relations or community relations perspective — or a common decency perspective,” McKinney said about the timing of the complaint. “I’ve been told by people in the community they were not happy about that.”
After responding to the complaint and visiting the site on May 11, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent Troilo a cease-and-desist letter dated May 13 informing him that damming Flat Run violated Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
The same letter also stated that the Virginia Department of Historic Resources said that the unauthorized work occurred in the Brandy Station Historic District, a property eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. It said that federal regulations prohibit work being done in U.S. waters without following procedures to protect historic properties like that.
A May 19 letter from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality informed Troilo that his unauthorized work may have violated State Water Control Law and Regulations, and could be subject to civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day of each violation, in addition to other possible fines.
A May 23 Corps letter to Troilo mentioned that he voluntarily agreed on May 16 to develop a “restoration plan” for his disturbance of Flat Run. He seemed very willing to cooperate with the state and federal authorities to correct the problem.
McKinney said Troilo told him that before starting the pond work, he asked Culpeper County officials what permits he needed and was told no additional permits were required.
“Are we supposed to jump in and say, ‘Me, too’?” McKinney said of now denouncing what Troilo did on Fleetwood Hill. “Is that going to accomplish anything substantive? Probably not. The controversy over the pond is already over.”
He acknowledges, “Some people look at this as a destruction of Fleetwood Hill, as despoiling historic property.”
“The other way of looking at that is, a property owner has certain rights for his own property. I think we as preservationists have to be very thoughtful when we approach landowners about issues that are really within the purview of the property owner,” he said.
“In fact, if this were not a Clean Water Act issue, the pond would be there right now,” according to McKinney.
McKinney said upcoming issues for the Brandy Station Foundation include commemorating the battle’s 150th anniversary, participating on the Culpeper Sesquicentennial Committee, commemorating the Union Army’s six-month winter encampment nearby and “putting things in place so one day we can buy Fleetwood Hill.”
He also lists getting an easement from Troilo so visitors can walk from BSF to Civil War Trust (CWT) property, using an $80,000 federal grant before it expires on Sept. 30, and qualifying the BSF for participation in the Combined Federal Campaign where federal workers can annually select it for a charitable contribution.
In terms of preservation, McKinney said, “Other than Fleetwood Hill, the Brandy Station Battlefield is pretty much protected right now.”
Jim Campi, Civil War Trust Policy and Communications Director, commented: “It is critical for the future of Brandy Station that it have a vibrant and active advocacy group. Much of the battlefield remains unprotected and, as we have seen with the Troilo pond incident and Route 3 widening proposal, vigilance is necessary to ensure that preserved lands remain preserved.”
He added, “The recent flurry of resignations from the BSF board have many foundation friends concerned about the organization’s future.”
McKinney said he thinks that with the exception of Bud Hall, those who resigned “didn’t have any understanding or knowledge of me, and it’s not like I haven’t been working for the BSF for a number of years.”