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Sens. Webb, Warner speak up on Wilderness Wal-Mart; Rep. Wittman keeping out of issue

Date published: 7/18/2009

RELATED:Orange board will discuss how to respond to governor's letter on Wal-Mart at meeting July 28

MORE INFO:Wilderness Wal-Mart archived articles


Historic preservation can make for odd political bedfellows, and it certainly is doing so in the Wilderness Wal-Mart controversy.

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., Gov. Tim Kaine, also a Democrat, and Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell of Stafford County, a Republican who has frequently battled with Kaine and other Democrats, see eye-to-eye on the land-use issue in Orange County.

Earlier this week, Kaine and Howell urged the Orange County Board of Supervisors to work with Wal-Mart to find an alternate site for the giant retailer's proposed Supercenter in Orange.

Such a tract, they said, should be in the vicinity of the proposed site off State Route 3--but not on the Wilderness battlefield, and it should be out of view from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Webb endorsed that position yesterday.

"As a longtime advocate of preserving our Civil War battlefields I believe it is vitally important that respect and reverence guide all land-use decisions affecting these historic sites," Webb said through his press secretary.

"I hope that Wal-Mart, the Board of Supervisors and all of the parties involved are able to reach a conclusion that respects the Wilderness battlefield site, in order to move forward with a project that will spur economic growth in the area," he said.

Virginia's other senator, former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, is leaving it to the Orange supervisors to decide the matter.

"Senator Warner understands the importance of local input and control over zoning decisions like this, and he trusts that Orange County officials will recognize the importance of preserving historic sites as they make their decision," his communications director, Kevin Hall, said.

Rep. Eric Cantor, the 7th District Republican in whose district the Wilderness retail center would be built--was busy with floor votes yesterday afternoon, and unavailable for comment, his spokeswoman said. Cantor is the House minority whip, the chamber's No. 2 post.

Rep. Robert Wittman, R-1st, isn't jumping into the fray.

"He's monitoring the issue, but since it's not in his district and there is no federal role involved, he's kind of staying out of it," said Mary Springer, Witt-man's chief of staff.

The Wal-Mart site is along Wilderness Run, the boundary line between Orange and Spotsylvania counties and Cantor and Wittman's districts.

The two rivals for Kaine's job, Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell, have also staked out positions on the matter.

State Sen. Deeds wrote Michael T. Duke, president of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., asking him to move the Supercenter away from the battlefield, noting there are several large parcels suitable for a Route 3 store within two or three miles.

McDonnell expressed confidence that Orange officials will find a middle ground that "preserves the Wilderness battlefield while also allowing for commercial development."

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com