Friday, July 2, 2010

Georgia moves to save Civil War sites or reduce construction impact on them

Acknowledging that Civil War sites are endangered throughout the Atlanta region, the state of Georgia will provide guidelines to local governments on how best to save them or mitigate the effects of highway construction and other forms of development.

“We will do a context study of Civil War resources in all of metro Atlanta,” said Heather Mustonen, archaeologist with the Office of Environmental Services, Georgia Department of Transportation.

Mustonen says planning for the study is in the early stages. The project includes identifying sites and “assessing their current status and preservation potential.”

Working with Cobb County and the Historic Preservation Division of the State Department of Natural Resources, Georgia DOT will provide “useful documentation” to local governments and cultural resource managers who must conduct research and sign off on projects.

Cultural resource managers identify archaeological sites, historic buildings, and other cultural properties so that they can be considered under environmental policy laws and regulations.

“If an archaeologist is hired by a county… this will be putting [a project] in the context of the larger Atlanta Campaign,” says Mustonen.

Officials want planners to know that even a piecemeal loss of or damage to a site could have a larger, contextual effect on metro Atlanta’s Civil War resources. “The idea is to think about the broader picture,” Mustonen said.

The state is inviting groups such as the Georgia Battlefields Association to provide input.

The study would not just look at road building. Guidelines should be used for any development or project. “Folks can use this for their projects whatever they may be,” Mustonen said.

For 100 years after the war, Georgia and Atlanta did little to save Civil War sites. But attitudes and laws have changed in recent years.

Officials know that some losses will continue to happen. Lovett School in Atlanta, for example, last fall destroyed more than 110 yards of trenches (right) to build a sports complex. The school was able to show federal, state and city officials that other locations were too expensive and impractical.

But the state is hoping that the majority of Civil War sites will be saved in the future.

The impetus for the study was the upcoming interchange project (map above) for Atlanta Road at I-285 in the Vinings neighborhood of Cobb County northwest of Atlanta. Georgia DOT is doing an environmental study on the project, which includes a new bridge and other modifications.

The state learned that about 50 feet of Civil War trench line was on private property right next to the interchange. “We just shifted the work so that we are all on the existing right of way,” Mustonen said.

“We aren’t having a direct effect on the resource [trench line]. We are having an indirect effect.”

By that she means there will be more traffic and the higher possibility of commercial or retail development. The property owner could decide to sell the parcel – and its trenches -- to developers.

Cobb County, which was the scene of many engagements, including Kennesaw Mountain, during the war, is helping to fund the study.

Many Georgians may not know that Georgia DOT has an environmental division and archaeologists. Before a federal law passed in 1966, the loss of Civil War resources to road projects wasn’t uncommon. For example, Leggett’s Hill, the scene of vicious fighting during the Battle of Atlanta in 1864, was carved up to make room for Interstate 20 at Moreland Avenue in the early 1960s.

The U.S. DOT Act of 1966 “requires that before land from a significant publicly owned park, recreation area, national wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or any significant historic site (regardless of ownership) can be converted to a transportation use it must be demonstrated that there is no prudent or feasible alternative to that use and that the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm.”

Charlie Crawford, executive director of Georgia Battlefields Association, said the group will help in “mitigation planning” for the busy Atlanta Road interchange, which was near Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s River Line. He said he is not positive whether the trench line was Confederate or Federal.

“There’s a larger effort, especially in Cobb County, to inventory [Civil War] sites when they do future projects,” Crawford said.

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