Wilderness Wal-Mart: Another Round at Germanna

Earlier this year, preservationists celebrated when Wal-Mart dropped plans to place a store at the Wilderness Crossing site, adjacent to the Wilderness Battlefield.  However, as I mentioned a few months afterwards, Wal-Mart moved their plans for development a bit to the west northwest.

Several major preservation organizations, including the Civil War Trust, Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield,  Piedmont Environmental Council, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, applauded this change.  I don’t recall any proclamations of direct support (as in active participation), but everyone cited the site selection as proof preservationists and developers could find options that met requirements of both sides.

At the same time, one preservation group in particular stood apart – the Germanna Foundation.  As I mentioned back in May, the ground chosen by Wal-Mart encroached upon several sites considered sensitive by Germanna.  Marc Wheat, president of the Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies, explained the foundation’s stance, “What we are concerned about is noise and light pollution that would damage that kind of experience for generations.

Since that time, Germanna has come forth with information which indicates the Wal-Mart site will indeed encroach upon historic features and landmarks.   The features noted cover the span of American History from Colonial right up to the 20th century.  But of note to the Civil War audience, the ground includes several earthworks which were dated to the Mine Run and Overland Campaigns. Wal-Mart has challenged many of Germanna’s claims as “baseless.”

Germanna has also brought up the question, “Why has opposition been so muted?” Germanna has mentioned “gag orders” which have silenced opposition to Wal-Mart’s new site.

Multiple sources have informed the Germanna Foundation that the very preservation groups that had opposed Wal-Mart’s construction at the “Wilderness Battlefield site” in 2010 are signatories to a Wal-Mart confidentiality agreement.   The Wal-Mart gag agreement has prevented them from participating, by action or comment, in the current controversy over the planned destruction of historic sites on the Germanna Wal-Mart site.  According to employees within these organizations, the Wal-Mart gag agreement binds four of the most storied names in historic preservation:

  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation,
  • The Civil War Trust,
  • The Piedmont Environmental Council, and
  • The Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield

The National Trust, Civil War Trust, and Friends of the Wilderness responded to the reference about a “gag order” saying “We have no gag agreement with Walmart, as should be obvious from the vociferous advocacy of our organizations to date.”

I’ll hold my opinions about “gag orders” and other friction between preservation groups to myself, at this point.  I don’t know enough specifics to comment further.  I certainly don’t like any contention between preservation allies.   And even more to the point, I don’t like hearing that historical resources are again in danger because of further development plans.

So again I’m asking (AGAIN) why a specific location in Orange County is so critical to the success of a retail store?  Can it not be moved a mile or two away to a less sensitive location? And for that matter is a new Wal-Mart even necessary in that market?