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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow Section 106 in Action arrow Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases arrow West Virginia: Murphy Farm Redevelopment

West Virginia: Redevelopment of Murphy Farm, Harpers Ferry

Agencies: Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service

Criteria for ACHP Involvement:
  • This undertaking poses serious and unresolved adverse effects to the historic character of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, through the introduction of incompatible new construction that conflicts with the historic setting, and intrudes upon its historic vistas (Criterion 1).
  • This case raises important policy issues regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's Section 106 responsibilities for the State-delegated National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit Program (Criterion 2).
  • There is considerable public concern for the potential effects of the proposed undertaking. In addition, congressional interest in preserving the property has led to appropriation of funds for purchase, a proposal that directly conflicts with proposed plans for development (Criterion 3).

Recent Developments

On May 14, 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew its waiver of review of the proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit associated with the Murphy Farm redevelopment. Acting in response to concerns raised by ACHP, the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the National Park Service (NPS), and others regarding potential adverse effects to natural and historic resources, EPA exercised its prerogative to require Federal review of the permit.

Members of the National League of Colored Women, 1896, Murphy Farm, West Virginia


Members of an 1896 pilgrim party from the
National League of Colored Women, Murphy Farm, Harpers Ferry, WV
(photo courtesy of Historic Photo Collection, Harpers Ferry NHP)




Based on its initial review, EPA notified the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection of its interim objection to the draft permit, requested additional information, and indicated that Section 106 consultation would need to be carried out.

On another front, on May 24, 2001, the Harpers Ferry Conservancy filed suit against the Jefferson County Planning Commission, challenging a number of decisions made as part of the local planning process for the proposed development. On June 14, ACHP notified EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman of its intention to participate in the Section 106 consultation.


Private developers propose construction of a 188-unit housing development immediately adjacent to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park on Murphy Farm, a property identified by NPS as a contributing element of the park’s cultural landscape. To proceed with the project, the developers need authorization from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for a NPDES permit for a sewage treatment plant.

The project is controversial, and the State of West Virginia has received objections from more than 7,000 members of the public, including the West Virginia and Jefferson County Chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Parks Conservation Association, the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The 100-acre site is historically important as a Civil War battlefield and for its association with John Brown’s Fort, the building seized by radical abolitionist Brown in a famous effort to free American slaves. In 1891, the building was disassembled and later rebuilt at several locations, including Murphy Farm. There it became a place of pilgrimage and inspiration for W.E.B. DuBois and other members of the Niagara Movement, a civil rights organization that was instrumental in the founding of the NAACP. Although John Brown’s Fort is no longer located on the property, the site remains of great significance to NAACP members. (For more information on the history of Harpers Ferry and John Brown’s Fort, visit

At the urgent request of the West Virginia SHPO, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and others, ACHP contacted EPA in April 2001 and requested its evaluation of its responsibilities to comply with Section 106 for this undertaking. ACHP’s letter of inquiry brought to the attention of EPA that a congressional appropriation has been obtained to advance plans for purchasing, through NPS’s Land and Water Conservation Fund program, this and other Civil War battlefield properties associated with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The correspondence stressed that should NPS and the property owners reach agreement on purchase of the property as park land, Murphy Farm could become an important cultural and economic asset to the State of West Virginia and the Nation.

Policy Highlights

The NPDES permit program implements a part of the Clean Water Act that EPA has delegated to States certified by EPA for purposes of administration of this program. Because NPDES permits are authorized at the State level, EPA routinely depends upon informal coordination between the State permitting agency and the SHPO to address any effects to historic properties. In the absence of any approved program alternatives such as a Programmatic Agreement, such efforts fail tosatisfy EPA’s Section 106 responsibilities and complicate consideration of the effect of NPDES permits on important historic properties such as Murphy Farm.

Staff contact: Martha Catlin

Updated June 6, 2002

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