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Bill back to expand Petersburg National Battlefield
By James Peacemaker, Jr. Managing Editor
Jul 15, 2013, 13:26

JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT A re-enactor leads men through marching drills for visitors at Petersburg National Battlefield on June 22.

For the third time since 2009, a bill has been introduced that could quadruple the size of the Petersburg National Battlefield.

If approved, it is estimated that it could take 15-20 years to acquire all of the land, but it would make Petersburg National Battlefield the largest military park in the country.

The bill could add land in time for the sesquicentennial of the fighting during the Civil War in Petersburg, which took place toward the end of the war in 1864 and 1865.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-4th, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, on July 9.

The deal has failed several times in the past though.

In 2009, a the same bill was introduced by Forbes. It garnered widespread support in Virginia and was passed by the House but stalled in the Senate.

It was introduced again in 2011 by Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, both Democrats from Virginia. That bill ultimately failed as well.

Currently the park encompasses about 2,659 acres, but the Petersburg campaign happened over an estimated 100,000 acres and consisted of 108 military actions and 26 major battles, according a 2009 report.

In 2003, the nonprofit Civil War Preservation Trust identified Petersburg as one of the 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields. In 2004, the National Park Service evaluated and prioritized land outside of the battlefield for possible inclusion and said 23,000 acres retain their historic integrity.

The bill would have allowed the park to add 7,238 acres of land associated with the Petersburg campaign. Three nonprofits, the Civil War Preservation Trust, the Conservation

Fund, and the Izaak Walton League, already owned or hold easements on 1,040 acres of the recommended additions, according to a 2009 House report.

The cost associated with the bill could ultimately doom it again though, especially with the federal government going through sequestration and furloughs.

The bill would allow for people to make land donations to the park or to purchase land using donated money. The land was valued at about $20 million, according to the 2009 report. The bill would not allow for the use of eminent domain. Although the land would not cost the government anything, it would have some costs associated with the acquisitions.

In 2009, it was estimated to cost $1.74 million for trails, exhibits, rehabilitation of an existing visitor contact station and expansion-related costs such as surveys and hazardous materials studies, according to testimony by Stephen E. Whitesell, associate director for park planning, facilities and lands for the National Park Service in 2009. It would also cost about $484,000 a year to maintain if all of the land were acquired.

The bill would also have Fort Lee trade 1.7 acres of land with Petersburg National Battlefield.

It aims at fixing a problem that started after Fort Lee was required to build a fence surrounding the post following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The fence intruded slightly into the boundary of the park.

The bill would transfer administrative jurisdiction of the land inside the fence to the Secretary of the Army while transferring another piece of land to the Secretary of the Interior, whose department is in charge of the National Park Service.

The Petersburg National Battlefield includes four main sites in Petersburg, Dinwiddie and Hopewell, and is one of the most significant Civil War sites in the country.

During the nine and a half month siege, there were 70,000 casualties. It is here where Union troops cut off supply lines to Richmond, ultimately leading to its fall and the surrender of Gen Robert E. Lee six days later on April 6, 1865.

It gets about 200,000 visitors a year and brings in millions of dollars in tourism revenue for the region.

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