Twenty questions for CWPT (3/4)

Jim Campi, spokesman for Civil War Preservation Trust was good enough to entertain twenty questions from this blogger and I will be sharing my questions and his answers this week without edits or comment. Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for facilitating this exchange.

DR: Does CWPT endorse or oppose political candidates based on their preservation positions?

JC: As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we cannot endorse or oppose political candidates.

DR: Is Civil War tourism the rightful purpose for saving battlefields or is it secondary?

JC: CWPT sees tourism as a powerful tool for promoting battlefield protection. It provides preservationists with an economic argument for protecting hallowed ground, which is often more persuasive with local governments considering the development of historic land. Many understand that tourism to battlefields is a valuable commodity, because tourists (particularly heritage tourists) spend large amounts of money in neighboring communities, but put little or no demands on local services (such as schools, police and fire protection).

DR: What is CWPT's position on saving sites through eminent domain?

JC: We generally shy away from saving sites through eminent domain for two reasons:

(1) Use of eminent domain is a very polarizing issue. Once invoked it can make any other preservation in a region difficult, if not impossible. As one very respected preservationist once told me, you can use eminent domain once, then you will never have enough local goodwill and government support to save land in that area again.

(2) It is not cost effective. The legislative taking of the Stuart Hill Tract in the late 80s is a case in point. Although that parcel without question needed to be preserved, those 500 acres wound up costing taxpayers more than $120 million – more money than has been invested by the federal government in battlefield preservation in the last 7 years. Please note that the developer had bought the property only a few years before for $2 million.

DR: Why not buy land?

JC: I believe this was the question in which you were trying to differentiate between outright land acquisition (fee simple purchase) and conservation easements.

First, please be aware that – by far – most of our land deals are for the outright purchase of battlefield land. In this, we are just like you – we want to be able to walk on battlefield land, not view it from afar, or only with a landowner’s permission.

In general, CWPT only uses easements to protect property around core battlefield (for instance, at Antietam, where much of the viewshed is protected through conservation easements). The only exception is when we cannot get the seller to commit to an outright purchase, but he/she is willing to accept an easement. Then, at the very least, we do not have to worry about the property being sold for a subdivision. Later, we can perhaps buy it outright (for substantially lower cost, because we already hold an easement).

I recall you are not a fan of easements – particularly on South Mountain. I agree that easements don’t make sense in many preservation situations. However, CWPT believes easements can play an important role in protecting battlefields – but they have to be used judiciously, when public access is not an issue.

DR: Is saving viewshed like saving battlefields?

JC: I think we all agree that viewshed is important for maintaining the historic context of core battlefield land. As we discussed in the previous question, it makes sense to use easements to acquire view sheds, so that financial resources can be conserved for outright acquisition of core battlefield land. Easements tend to cost about half the fee-simple purchase price of a parcel.