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Texas, Vermont politicians join Orange Wal-Mart battle ABOUT POE
Politicians from Texas, Vermont join fight against proposed Orange Wal-Mart

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Date published: 1/31/2009


The so-called "Wilderness Wal-Mart" in Orange County is catching grief from both North and South--and elected officials on both ends of the political spectrum.

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, a conservative Republican from eastern Texas, has expressed to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott his "profound disappointment" about the giant retailer's plan to build a Supercenter beside the Civil War battlefield. In a letter written last week, he urges Scott to give the matter "immediate reconsideration."

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Vermont--a haven for independent-minded Democrats--are holding hearings on the issue. Vermont troops suffered their worst casualties of the war in the Battle of the Wilderness, turning back a Confederate attack that threatened to split the Union Army.

The Vermont Senate and House are considering whether to ask Wal-Mart to move the store farther from the entrance to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, according to Howard Coffin, a Civil War historian and author who lives in Montpelier, the state capital.

Wal-Mart is proposing to build a 139,000-square-foot store atop a ridge less than a quarter mile from the park, on commercially zoned land.

Nationally significant Civil War sites, "such as the tract of land for your proposed development, are not where commercial development needs to be in America," Poe wrote Scott. "They should be set aside and untouched for present and future generations of Americans to visit so as to never let them forget the past and the lessons they taught."

Poe noted that the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, established by Congress to study the historical significance of such places, "defined your proposed land for development as part of The Wilderness [battlefield]. There are countless other locations your company could look at for your development in this region."

Poe's legislative director, Alan Knapp, said in an interview yesterday that Poe hopes Wal-Mart will relocate away from the battlefield and the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20.

"The right thing to do is for Wal-Mart to exercise its higher corporate responsibility, even if the land is zoned accordingly and the final decision is up to the Orange County supervisors," Knapp said. "We're asking for them to step back and reconsider."

Scott has not yet responded to Poe's letter, he said.

Knapp said the Wilderness has a special place in the hearts of Texans, whose modern-day service members revere the courage of the state's troops fighting at the Wilderness on May 5-6, 1864, and throughout the Civil War. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee praised the Texans' actions in the Virginia battle.

Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Park, welcomed Poe's intervention and the ongoing discussions among Vermont legislators.

"They are expressions from entirely different places showing people's interest across the country in these national treasures we have here," Smith said.

"I know that Orange County has some difficult decisions to make. And in making those decisions, they need to have this information."

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

Ted Poe is a three-term congressman from the Lone Star State's 2nd District. The Houston-area seat was once held by Democrat Charlie Wilson, whose crusade to arm Afghan guerillas against a Soviet invasion was made into a popular 2007 movie, "Charlie Wilson's War."

A former prosecutor and judge, Poe gained national prominence for his tough-on-crime attitude and unorthodox sentencing. Keenly interested in American history, he supported the just-enacted Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2007 and legislation to honor the Marquis de Lafayette's 250th birthday.

Supporters are trying to persuade Poe to run for governor of Texas next year.