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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: Redevelopment of Murphy Farm, Harpers Ferry
West Virginia: Redevelopment of Murphy Farm, Harpers Ferry

Agencies: Environmental Protection Agency and National Park Service

Criteria for ACHP Involvement:

  • This undertaking poses serious and unresolved ad-verse 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 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

In December 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) convened a Section 106 consultation meeting at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, to discuss the proposed development of nearby Murphy Farm and the project’s required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

Historic photo of visitors to Murphy Farm, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia


Murphy Farm, Harpers Ferry, WV (photo courtesy of Historic Photo Collection, Harpers Ferry NHP)





Participants included representatives of ACHP, the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the National Park Service (NPS), the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the town of Harpers Ferry.

The group helped EPA to identify existing information (as well as additional information needs) regarding affected historic properties and to map a course for future actions toward full consideration of such properties in EPA’s permit review. ACHP anticipates that EPA will be providing additional information to the West Virginia SHPO and the other consulting parties in the near future.


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 an NPDES permit for a sewage treatment plant.

The project is controversial, with more than 7,000 objections lodged by members of the public and organizations, 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, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Civil War Preservation Trust.

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.

It there 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.

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 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.

The following month, EPA withdrew its waiver of review of the proposed NPDES permit associated with the Murphy Farm redevelopment, thus exercising its prerogative to require Federal review of the permit. 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. In June 2001, ACHP notified EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman of its intention to participate in the Section 106 consultation.

On another front, in May 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.

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 to satisfy 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 May 6, 2003

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