Pipeline plan upsets those planning for Bull Run anniversary

By Derek Kravitz and Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 10, 2010

An Oklahoma-based energy firm is seeking to expand and replace a natural gas pipeline under a Northern Virginia Civil War battleground, work that local officials and history enthusiasts fear would disturb the Manassas hallowed ground and disrupt next year's planned 150th anniversary of the war's first major land battle.

Williams Cos. of Tulsa is planning about three miles of work on underground pipes along its 10,500-mile Transco pipeline, which stretches from South Texas to New York, to meet increased demand for natural gas in the Washington region, said company spokeswoman Cindy Ivey. The Mid-Atlantic Connector expansion project would provide gas to about 600,000 homes by November 2012, the company says.

If approved by federal officials, a new 1 1/2 -mile section of pipe would be laid from Centreville to Manassas and about 1 1/3 miles of existing pipeline would be replaced in Fairfax County. But part of the project in Prince William County runs underneath a section of Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of two key Civil War battles in 1861 and 1862, said Ed W. Clark, the national park's superintendent.

"It'd be nice if they got rid of that pipe," said Gregg Jones, 60, a government consultant and Civil War reenactor who lives in Midland, Va. "It'd be nice to have the vegetation still there instead of a strip cutting through the park. But that's what you get when you have a natural gas line."

Prince William, Manassas and the National Park Service are preparing for a massive commemoration next summer of the First Battle of Bull Run. The July 21, 1861, clash, also referred to as the First Battle of Manassas, was unexpectedly bloody and came just three months after the start of the war at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Wealthy families rode in carriages from Washington to watch the battle, expecting to see a staid Union victory. When Confederate troops overran Union lines, the Yankees fled east toward the capital, becoming entangled with the fleeing spectators.

Williams Cos. has had an easement on the Manassas property since the Transco lines were built in the 1950s, Ivey said, and most of the heavy drilling would be concentrated underneath adjoining Interstate 66. Engineers would work on a 1,900-foot-long stretch of battlefield parkland that has been leased back to a local hay farmer.

And much of the hallowed ground at Bull Run has already been disturbed, officials said.

"My great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, so I'm definitely sensitive to the land being disturbed," said Creston M. Owen, 45, of Catlett, Va., who has helped rally nearby landowners and politicians to invest in the 150th anniversary commemoration. "That being said, almost every square inch of land, from Centreville to Fauquier County and a 30-mile radius around Manassas, had skirmishes break out and important battles."

But Civil War reenactors fear that construction will affect next year's commemoration, which organizers have estimated could draw 150,000 people for a string of events July 21-24. Prince William County Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R), whose Gainesville district includes the battlefield, called the anniversary "a huge draw to the county, so we don't want to have any disruptions."

Stirrup said county officials are looking for potential reenactment sites and have asked their congressional delegation to waive a law that bans such events in national battlefield parks. "Not only is this the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas, but this will be the first of several commemoration events that could be going on for the next few years," he said.

The lack of a firm date for the reenactment, however, has prompted many Civil War enthusiasts, including Jones, to wonder whether the Manassas re-creation will live up to the hype and rival other Civil War-themed events, including one at Gettysburg, Pa., in 2013.

"I'm just hoping Prince William gets its act together," said Jones, who attended the last reenactment held at Bull Run, in 1961. "We'd like to see this be big."

The 1961 centennial commemoration at Bull Run, with reenactors wearing cheap blue or gray work shirts and stuffed dummies positioned to look like corpses, drew about 2,500 reenactors and 100,000 visitors, overwhelming National Park Service staff and damaging areas of the park.

Critics dismissed the event as a commercialized, Coney Island-style circus, and reenactors haven't been allowed to use the battlefield since.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company