Planned Disney Park near Civil War Sites Sparks Ironic Battle over States' Rights

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WILL a Walt Disney Company theme park in the heart of historic Virginia ruin the very history the park would seek to celebrate?

That question has reached the halls of the United States Senate. Last week, Disney took a beating as 15 House members (conspicuously, none from Virginia) sought support for a nonbinding, anti-theme park resolution, and protesters picketed Disney chairman Michael Eisner's attendance at a movie premiere here.

But this week, it was Disney's turn as most senators on a subcommittee on public lands, national parks, and forests stressed that the county, regional, and state governments would rule on Disney's plan - not Capitol Hill. As in the Civil War, the question of states' rights has raised its head.

"Regardless of my own personal views about this project, the states' rights issue is overriding," said Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, who owns a farm in a county adjacent to Disney's 3,006-acre site.

So far, at least, the local arbiters of Disney's request have rolled out the welcome mat.

But because of environmental regulations and the proximity of national historic sites to the proposed park - Manassas National Battlefield Park is four miles away - federal agencies must sign off on some aspects of the Disney plan. Critics say the federal oversight is their greatest hope for defeating the $650 million project.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is preparing an environmental-impact statement on the road upgrades needed for the additional traffic Disney would bring. The Federal Highway Administration must approve that report, due out in 18 months. In addition, the US Environmental Protection Agency must ensure that air quality will meet federal guidelines.

Disney is confident it can pass these tests, plus dozens of other local reviews its plan must pass before the company breaks ground in Haymarket, Va. Mark Pacala, general manager of Disney's America, as the project is called, said Tuesday that Disney "will go the extra mile to respond to community concerns, to minimize the impact on our new neighbors, and to avoid any impact on the Manassas National Battlefield Park. …