The U.S. government has agreed to pay $81 million to Northern Virginia developer Hazel/Peterson Cos. for nearly 400 acres that Congress seized in 1988 and added to the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The settlement brings to $118 million the amount paid by the federal government so far for the battlefield property, which was the subject of a bitter fight between preservationists and developers in 1988.

The settlement, which was entered in U.S. Claims Court Monday, also grants $2.8 million to the Marriott Corp. for its contract to buy 16 acres in the so-called William Center tract. Two other developers received $34 million in May for 150 adjacent acres seized at the same time.

The Manassas battle "is finally coming to fruition, but we're seeing how much it's costing," said Interior Department spokesman Steven Goldstein. "There are better ways {to save battlefields}."

Two suits totaling $13 million filed by Prince William County and its sewer authority are still pending.

Monday's settlement sets a value of $67.6 million on Hazel/Peterson's land and includes $13.3 million in interest accrued over the two years since the taking.

"Settlements are compromises. I don't think everybody gets what they wanted," said Grayson P. Hanes, a Hazel/Peterson attorney, adding that the company's own appraisal of the land's value was "substantially above the settlement offer."

Hanes said the company opted to settle because "It's a question of what you can do with money in today's market . . . . There are a lot of problems out there." Hazel/Peterson has recently laid off nine of its 64 employees and announced plans to scale back office development in favor of affordable housing and small shopping centers.

Preservationists praised the settlement.

"When you divide {the total settlement} by the number of American taxpayers it comes to 50 cents for each person. I think it's worth it," said Annie D. Snyder, who lives near the battlefield and spearheaded the preservation campaign.

Preservationists started the fight to save the battlefield in 1988 when John T. "Til" Hazel Jr. and his partner, Milton V. Peterson, announced plans to build a shopping mall and 500 houses on land south of Interstate 66 in the area where two major Civil War battles were fought in 1861 and 1862.

Bulldozers began moving earth on the property while historians and government officials wrangled over the significance of the land, including Stuart's Hill, named for Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.

Congress eventually exercised a rarely used "legislative taking," signed into law Nov. 10, 1988, to seize 558 acres, with compensation for the owners to be determined later.

At that time, Hazel and Prince William officials who opposed the taking warned that the land would cost the government more than $100 million, although the property was assessed at $13.6 million.

"We said all along it was going to cost $100 million," said Robert L. Cole, chairman of the Board of County Supervisors. "I can't justify those numbers."

When a year went by without a negotiated settlement, Hazel/Peterson filed suit in November 1989.

Hazel/Peterson paid about $11 million for the entire tract in 1986, and later sold 150 acres to NVHomes and William Center Limited Partnership.

Visitors to the Manassas Battlefield can now climb to the top of Stuart's Hill and see where Robert E. Lee set up his headquarters and directed the Confederate forces to victory in 1862. Last summer, teenage volunteers from the Student Conservation Association reseeded the land and created trails to the hill's summit. "You can go over there and watch the deer running around," said Snyder.

Prince William County is still seeking nearly $10 million in compensation for promised land and monetary donations from the developers, and the sewer authority says that rerouting sewer lines around the battlefield will cost $3 million. County Attorney Sharon Pandak said she does not expect a hearing on the claims until February.

The fight over Manassas galvanized national efforts to preserve Civil War battlefields. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. has asked Congress for $15 million for next year to begin efforts to save battlefields before they become targets for development.