Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus yesterday accepted scenic easements on nearly half of the Green Springs Historic District of Louisa County, Va., and reaffirmed the 14,000-acre area's status as a National Historical Landmark.
The dual actions placed the Interior Department squarely on the side of preservationists who have been battling for five years to prevent strip mining of vermiculite in the rich agricultural pocket between Richmond and Charlottesville.
"It's the grandest Christmas present we could hope for," said Rae Ely, a leader of a Louisa preservationists' group called Historic Green Springs, Inc.
A. G. Johnson, chairman of the county's Board of Supervisors, said the decision and the series of public hearings leading up to it was a sham. "It was cut and dried all along," said Johnson, a leader of a numerically dominant group that views the mining operation as a source of major economic benefit for the rural county, 90 miles southeast of Washington.
The battle has been between the preservationists, many of whom are rich outsiders who have bought 18th and 19th century homes in Green Springs, and a prodevelopment group, representing long-time residents who have never had much money.
The fight has raged bitterly through local elections and lawsuits to the Virginia Historical Society and up to the federal government.
Andrus said yesterday that his action "will make a significant contribution to the preservation of a remarkable historic landmark and testifies to this administration's commitment to preserve the cultural heritage of our country for present and future generations.
He congratulated the 38 donors of scenic easements for "binding themselves to preserve an important part of the nation's cultural legacy."
The easements are voluntary agreements attached to deeds that guarantee the property will retain its historic appearance. They do not convey ownership to the Interior Department but do give it a legal interest in maintaining the property in its present state.
The easements, secured four years ago by Historic Green Springs, also give Interior legal standing should it choose to challenge plans for mining or other development on neighboring land in the historic district.
The affirmation of the designation as a historical landmark - and as one of about 1,400 sites in the National Register of Historic Places - also makes necessary the drafting of an environmental impact statement by anyone undertaking development.
The Interior Department has opposed plans by W.R. Grace & Co., a New York-based conglomerate, and Virginia Vermiculite [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of Arlington to mine in the area. Officials of the two companies could not be reached for comment on how the decision might affect their plans.
Interior had rescinded its historic designations last July when it agreed to reconsider arguments by prodevelopment forces. Three public hearings were held and a 1,200-page report was prepared.
Ernest A. Connally, associate director of the National Park Service, said that he had doubted the significance of Green Springs until a trip through the area convinced him that it "has importance extending beyond the boundaries of Louisa County." Connally also said the easements will give the department "an active interest in protecting the real estate." Interior said the area is unique because of the high concentration of plantation manor houses.
The battle over mining of vermiculite, which is used as a son conditioner, in thermal and electrical insulation products and in cat litter, has raged so long in the small county that it has become highly personal.
Supervisor Johnson who is president of the Lake Anna Development Corp., said last year. "That historical landmark stuff is hogwash. I don't think there's anything up there in Green Springs at all."
And Gladys Kennon, the sheriff's wife, said, "They (the owners of the great old homes) think they're better than we are. They think they can tell us what to do . . . They don't even belong here. If they took a vote as to whether to throw 'the Queen' out of the county, she'd be gone so fast it would make your head swim."
"The Queen" the developer's name for Rae Ely, replied, "Outsiders are responsible for all the preservation in this state . . . All of it. Virginians just don't care at all about preservation."