Walt Disney is abandoning plans to build its Disney's America theme park near the famous Manassas Civil War battlefields.
Critics, including some historians, argued that the proposed $650 million park and adjacent developments would pollute the area and detract from true historic sites only a few miles away.
“While we do not agree with all their concerns, we are seeking a new location so that we can move the process forward,” Peter S. Rummell, president of Disney Design and Development Co., said Sept. 28.
Disney officials envision a park that would reflect historical themes on about 100 acres of land, surrounded by hotels, a campground, public golf course and commercial buildings.
In all, Walt Disney Co., had purchased 3,000 acres of land for the project about 35 miles west of the nation's capital and five miles from the Manassas National Battlefield near Haymarket.
“We recognize that there are those who have been concerned about the possible impact of our park on historic sites in this unique area, and we have always tried to be sensitive to the issue,” Rummell said.
“We remain convinced that a park that celebrates America and an exploration of our heritage is a great idea, and we will continue to work to make it a reality,” he said.
He said he still considered Virginia “an ideal place for this park.”
Pam Gagne of Protect Prince William County, a group opposed to the park, said she was pleased “they finally saw the light.”
“Their reputation as an environmentally conscious company will be upheld,” she said. “This was not the right spot for it.”
Disney's announcement came a week after Prince William County planners voted to support a rezoning application and special use permits for the park.
Opponents, however, had pledged to continue their fight.
Rummell said Disney was confident it could win all necessary permits, but “it has become clear that we could not say when the park would be able to open, or even when we could break ground.”
Disney had hoped to open the history-based park in 1998.
Rummell said the company wanted a park that could be “a source of pride and unity for all Americans.
“We certainly cannot let a particular site undermine that goal by becoming a source of divisiveness,” Rummell said.
Robert Skunda, state secretary of economic development, said state officials were “still reeling from the announcement.”
Gov. George Allen was a strong supporter of Disney's America and had pushed a $160 million package of incentives through the General Assembly.
Skunda said the incentives “are all erased. It's back to ground zero.”
Rummell named John F. Cooke, president of The Disney Channel, to the new position of chairman of Disney's America.
He said Cooke will oversee the entire Disney's America operation.
Dana Nottingham, who was director of development of Disney's America, was named president of the park and will be responsible for the day-to-day operations.
Pennsylvania DER to review wastewater program
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources is considering stricter water-pollution standards, a move that drew praise from conservationists and wildlife agencies but made land developers nervous.
DER is considering reclassifying 85 percent of the state’s rivers, lakes and ponds as “high quality,” making it harder and costlier to dump treated wastewater in those bodies of water, according to Caren Glotfelty, DER’s deputy secretary for water management. Only about 25 percent of the state’s water bodies are now classified as high quality.
Hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water flow legally into streams each day from 4,500 licensed discharge pipes across Pennsylvania. How well that wastewater must be cleaned up before it is discharged depends on how the stream is classified.
Throughout the last decade, the EPA has contended that DER was excluding too many waterways from the “high quality” classification. In June, the federal agency ordered DER officials to rewrite the law.
DER’s decision to review its standards was outlined in a Sept. 2 letter to Peter H. Kostmayer, the regional EPA administrator, from DER Secretary Arthur A. Davis.
“This pushes Pennsylvania out into the lead” in the protection of water quality, Kostmayer said.
But David Reel, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Bucks and Montgomery Counties, said the reclassification would hurt the construction industry. “If that much land is going to be literally taken out of use, it causes us real problems,” Reel said.
Glotfelty said DER would begin public review and discussion of proposed changes within a month.
Canada geese annoying northern Virginians
Some northern Virginians are becoming increasingly annoyed by flocks of Canada geese, which are being blamed for eating flowers and despoiling greenery with their droppings.
“It’s a major problem,” said Matthew Miller of the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
At the National Memorial Cemetery in Falls Church, visitors have difficulty getting to the graves because of the droppings. And once there, their decorations of flowers and other greenery are quickly eaten by the geese.
Madgel Boone said she often has trouble visiting her husband’s grave. Last year, she said, friends took a small, decorated Christmas tree and flowers to her husband’s grave.
By the time “they walked up the hill and turned around, the geese had pulled all the little balls off the tree and eaten the flowers,” she said.
The cemetery has twice attempted to discourage the geese by putting nets over the cemetery’s pond. Each time, someone cut down the nets.
Miller said the hundreds of geese at the cemetery were once migratory birds who have found the perfect home and don’t feel a need to leave.
“They stay here and the population grows and grows and grows,” Miller said. “These geese are really causing a problem around cities in Fairfax and Prince William where no hunting is allowed. There’s not much you can do on the law enforcement end.”
As a migratory bird, the Canada goose is protected by Fish and Wildlife Service, which can issue permits to kill the geese out of season, but rarely does so. But this year, it began a goose season for such local birds in Virginia.
Not everybody finds the geese offensive. The Fairfax Memorial Park has a gaggle of 30 to 50 geese on its small pond.
“Their droppings do cause a problem, particularly without any rain to wash them away,” said Betty Olson, cemetery family services counselor. “But people who come here love to see them. They do add a lot of aesthetics.”
VA DEQ urges board to lift chlorine ban
The Virginia Water Control Board is being urged to lift a ban on chlorine and related compounds in certain trout streams and waters containing endangered species.
The ban proposed by the staff of the state Department of Environmental Quality mainly would affect waterways in western and southwest Virginia.
An order from Gov. George Allen to eliminate unnecessary regulations provided impetus for the move to drop the ban, staff members said.
The water board agreed Sept. 19 to hold a public hearing on the issue. No date was set.
Some sewage treatment plants and industries use chlorine to kill bacteria and protect people. But chlorine can be toxic to fish.
The water board banned chlorine from the pristine streams in 1987 out of concern over some chlorine-related fish kills in the lower James River in the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, the board also adopted standards that set limits on the amount of chlorine that could be discharged into other rivers and still protect fish.
Robert Burnley, the DEQ’s director of program support and evaluation, said other significant fish kills did not occur after the standards were adopted. “The fears of chlorine were never realized.”
The ban imposed a hardship on users while affording “little or no environmental protection,” Burnley said.
If chlorine is banned from the streams, the standards that remain in effect will protect them, Burnley said.
But Patricia Jackson, director of the Lower James River Association, said the western areas “are more of a concern because you have more sensitive species there.”