Since May of last year I’ve kept tabs on events surrounding the Flat Run excavation at Fleetwood Hill on the Brandy Station battlefield. Readers may recall the landowner there attempted to build a massive pond in order to further his own recreational needs. After the damaging project was brought the attention of the US Army Corps of Engineers and Virgina Department of Historic Resources, the governing agencies, the land owner received a “stop work” order. From there the agencies conducted a full investigation of the damage done to the ground to support a mitigation plan.
In November, the governing agencies released a copy of the final mitigation agreement. Eric Wittenberg has posted the entire, signed, document for all to review. The legal grounds for this mitigation are sound – violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Historic Preservation act. The landowner, identified as Joseph A. “Tony” Troilo, has no room for rebuttal. The agreement requires him to fill in the hole, return the ground to the original grade and elevation. Furthermore Troilo is required to turn over the three acres he damaged to the Brandy Station Foundation.
Oddly, the foundation has seen fit to call this a “victory.” As I pointed out to Eric at the time, this is a Pyrrhic victory at best for the Brandy Station Foundation, and for several reasons. The majority (about 80%) of those three acres were spoiled by Troilo’s activity. An archeological survey of the damage noted, “the pond construction likely had an adverse effect on prehistoric Native American and Civil War era archeological resources.” The Corps of Engineers used the word “obliterated” in describing the impact.
Such is far from minimal damage, is beyond restoration, and is certainly not preservation.
In addition to the damage to the ground, there is damage to the reputation of a preservation organization. And there isn’t a repair plan for that damage. Mike Block was a board member at the time, and resigned over this issue. I invite you to read over his version of events. To me the most telling statement is this one from the board president Joe McKinney:
Should we pick the wrong fight, or pick the right fight but mismanage it, we put our organization at risk. We might all pat ourselves on the back for taking a stand, but if in the process we become insolvent we lose everything we have fought for over the years.
For fear of doing the right thing, the foundation’s board didn’t act. They didn’t fight the right fight. And mismanaged the affair. Even with that, the foundation came close to losing what it had gained. Financially speaking, throughout the summer I received frantic appeals for donations since the foundation was not meeting it’s obligations. The wellspring of donations dried up when the foundation stepped away from its preservationist goals. In July the foundation slipped through with an anonymous gift of $20,000. (No speculation, please.)
Further there is the question of the foundation’s officers and their actions when the pond development first came to light. At a minimum, several foundation board members knew something was in the works when bulldozers appeared. McKinney told me personally that he had discussed the issue with Troilo when first noticing the equipment, but determined there were no concerns. McKinney claimed to have presented the matter to the board, who also agreed there were no concerns. Yet, even now the foundation, as seen in the December newsletter, tries to sweep their responsibilities under the rug denying any involvement, “Before starting work, Mr. Troilo checked with the Culpeper County office of planning and zoning and was informed that no additional permits would be required.”
Anyone who has done work in and around historic sites would know the “planning and zoning” office is not the sole arbitrator for such permits. Construction of that lake required a permit, but none was sought. If Troilo had applied for a permit, state and federal organizations would have roundly dismissed the request. Indeed it is the role of the Brandy Station Foundation, as the self appointed steward of the battlefield, to ensure that property owners are directed to the right authorities. And in cases where the property owner does not, the foundation then should (read: is obligated by charter) alert the appropriate authorities. Inaction by the leadership of the foundation speaks to unfamiliarity with the regulations, calling into question the ability of those leaders to hold such positions. Or at least question the advice and direction they are offering to the community, under the guise of a 501(c)-3 organization.
So while the bulldozers ran the foundation avoided the issue publicly, did not alert authorities, and remained on the sidelines for fear of picking the wrong fight. McKinney advised foundation members (including me) not to make the construction an issue. Even after individuals working outside the foundation coordinated with the authorities, resulting in the “stop work” order mentioned above, the Brandy Station Foundation did nothing…. Well nothing save to issue a statement which, for all practical purposes, condoned Troilo’s activity!
At this time last year, the Brandy Station Foundation stood on the high ground as one of the nation’s premier preservation organizations. When folks spoke of preservation victories, they mentioned Brandy Station as the model for success.
But since April of 2011, the new leadership at the foundation has squandered that position. The organization is mired in a hole as deep as the one to be repaired along Flat Run. Certainly nothing deserving of a “pat on the back.”