A plan for protecting Civil War battlefields from development without outright federal purchase of them will be announced tomorrow by Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr.
The Interior Department will ask private foundations, preservation groups and state and local governments to join in buying 25 high-priority sites or preventing commercial development of them through zoning restrictions, Lujan said yesterday.
Six Virginia sites include the Wilderness in Spotsylvania County and Brandy Station in Culpeper. Maryland battlefields on the list are Antietam in Washington County and Monocacy in Frederick County.
Lujan said he plans to ask Congress for $15 million in seed money. He called for the creation of a commission to study and set priorities for protecting all Civil War sites.
"We can't do everything, but we want to put an emphasis on those battlefield sites before they get away from us," said Lujan, who will meet with the governors of the 21 states where Civil War battlefields are located to enlist their support.
Congressional leaders warned that budget constraints make it unlikely that the Interior Department will get additional money this year, so battlefield funding would have to be diverted from other programs.
Lujan's proposal, which he will announce at Manassas National Battlefield Park on the 129th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run, comes at a time when interest in preserving battlefields for both their historical and environmental value is growing.
At the same time, rapid growth in previously rural areas threatens battlefields across the country, especially in Virginia and Georgia.
"What happens in the next five to seven years is going to be critical," said Bruce Craig, of the National Parks and Conservation Association.
Preservationists hailed the Interior Department's plan as the first time the executive branch has taken the lead to protect battlefields.
"The secretary should be applauded for his bold initiative to draw the nation's attention to this pressing need," said Frances H. Kennedy, director of the Conservation Fund's $5 million battlefield preservation drive.
But preservationists warned that some major battle sites can be preserved only by federal purchase of the land, something that would require substantially more money than is available.
"What do we have a federal government for if it cannot purchase the lands that are the jewels in its crown?" said preservation lawyer Tersh Boasberg. "There's a gap between the rhetoric and reality."
Most of the ideas contained in Lujan's plan have been percolating in conservation and congressional circles. Legislation is awaiting action in the Senate that would set up a battlefield commission, with a $2 million budget, and would survey battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley.
All those involved say they are trying to avoid the kind of bitter and expensive fight that resulted in 1988 when a Northern Virginia developer tried to build a mall on land adjacent to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Congress added the land to the park. The final cost is estimated to be more than $100 million.
"It's really important that we quit doing these emergency additions on an ad hoc basis," said Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), who is leading preservation efforts in the Senate.
Preservationists said the Interior Department's support could be crucial for several local sites.
At the Wilderness battlefield, preservationists said they believe Lujan's announcement will dramatically improve their chances of raising enough money to buy part of the 1864 battle site from a Kentucky developer.
The Interior Department's support also could speed efforts to expand the protected areas around the national parks at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Antietam, both 1862 battle sites, preservationists said.
HIGH-PRIORITY BATTLEFIELD SITES
Alabama: Blakely (Baldwin County); Fort Morgan (Baldwin County).
Arkansas: Prairie Grove Battlefield Park (Washington County).
Georgia: Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Cobb County); Resaca (Gordon County).
Kentucky: Mill Springs (Pulaski County); Perryville battlefield (Boyle County).
Louisiana: Port Hudson (East Feliciana Parish).
Maryland: Antietam National Battlefield (Washington County); Monocacy National Battlefield (Frederick County).
Mississippi: Corinth, Corinth Siege (Alcorn County).
Missouri: Byram's Ford Historic District (Jackson County).
New Mexico: Glorieta Pass battlefield (San Miguel).
North Carolina: Fort Fisher (New Hanover County).
Pennsylvania: Gettysburg National Military Park (Adams County).
Tennessee: Franklin battlefield (Williamson County); Stones River National Battlefield (Rutherford County).
Virginia: Brandy Station (Culpeper County); Glendale, New Market Heights (Henrico County); Richmond National Battlefield Park (Hanover County), including the battle sites of Cold Harbor, Drewry's Bluff, Fort Harrison, Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill; Shenandoah Valley, including the sites of Kernstown, McDowell, Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, Fort Republic, New Market Battlefield Park, Piedmont, Cool Springs, Fisher's Hill, Tom's Brook and Cedar Creek; the Wilderness (Spotsylvania County), part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
West Virginia: Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (Jefferson County).