Thursday, March 09, 2006

105: “Alas, The Gettysburg Times, I Knew Them Horatio”


In recent weeks, we have been treated to some rather bizarre editorial evolutions by the Gettysburg Times. One would think that in a county as steeped in historical tradition and heritage as Adams County is, the owners and editors of the Gettysburg times would tread a bit more carefully around such topics as the Gettysburg National Military Park, and the relationship between the National Park Service and the local area. They might also have a bit more concern for the people of this county. Not, apparently if you are the Gettysburg Times.

This blogger knows from past history how much the Gettysburg Times favors development, particularly the pave-over the Straban Township Supervisors have planned for one of the most productive agricultural townships in the state.

Twice in past years Straban Township, with the complicit aid of the Adams County Commissioners, and the Adams County Economic Development Corporation, courted Wal-Mart, first to place a huge distribution center on the site of the now-proposed “equestrian center” at the Hunterstown exit of US 15, and later to build a new super Wal-Mart on the 42 acre site now under commitment to the proposed casino. The distribution center was defeated by public outcry culminated by an environmental report detailing the potential for chemical runoff into Rock Creek during a rainstorm. The superstore project mysteriously evaporated when the public began asking questions about the adjacent 14 acre parcel that Straban had acquired from the Federal Government, and wished to trade with Wal-Mart in order to better suit Wal-Mart’s lot configuration. There was just something about the timing of events that smelled a little hinky.

Oh, the Times published many letters to the editor about the two projects, many of them, most of them against the proposals, but there was a cast to their articles. They glowed in anticipation of the development. They still do. And there is a dearth of anti-development coverage. When it appears, it is characterized as “fringe” groups, or “greenies”. Anti-development groups and individuals rank somewhere below the half-dozen Democrats who live in the county.

Here’s an example of what they have learned to do after the twin Wal-Mart defeats. Most locals missed what happened last May. Straban Township passed a new zoning plan that resulted in the declaration of over 8,000 acres of farmland and open green space, mostly along US 15, as prime commercial, residential, industrial lands. That opened the gates for people like Bob Monahan, A&S Builders, and others, to move in, pay top prices to the land owners – money far too rich to pass up, and the next thing you know, we are getting a 2,000 unit senior living center south of the Hunterstown exit. A&S builders will be taking down all those trees along the southbound side of US 15 between York Street and Hanover Street, and will be shoe-horning several hundred houses in there. And that's just the tip of the ice berg. The plans call for as many as 20,000 new homes in the next decade. That will take a 10,000 person township, and make it into a 60,000 person township, increasing the population six-fold. Imagine the traffic that will go with that.

In his article covering the Straban Supervisor’s meeting, developer-friendly reporter John Messeder included one line at the end of his article (page 3) to the effect that Straban had passed its new zoning plan.

In contrast, the Hanover Sun gave us a full front page expose in their Sunday edition, written by one of their ace young reporters. It laid out the facts, the numbers and the effects of the new plan. It even printed a large township map to go along with the article.

One sentence from the local newspaper vs. one full article from a newspaper in the next county. The Times never did address it. The Hanover Sun stayed on it, right through the surprise announcement about the casino project. You decide.

The National Park Service began work on a new management plan over a decade ago. In the course of it, they held dozens of public meetings, allowing public input, comment, and even adding written comment into record. From years of meetings, committee planning sessions, and work with local leaders, the Park Service came up with a management plan that would take an enormous step toward restoring the Battlefield to its 1863 condition. Prior to this plan being developed, the park had gone through over 130 years of acquisitions, grindingly slow, in order to amass the acreage now included in the Park. Along the way both large and small steps were taken to restore the Battlefield. Some of the Army observation towers were removed. Roads were moved, or taken out entirely. In the late 1990s new worm and split rail fencing was added – miles of it – and acres of orchards were planted. Greater efforts were made to preserve and protect the monuments, most of which were placed here by the survivors of the bloody three-day battle. And all of that was accomplished with an ever diminishing operating budget, trimmed annually by Congress. As was pointed out in a semi-Op-ed piece in the Gettysburg Times by Barbara Platts, the Park is a Military Park. It exists to preserve the Battle of Gettysburg in American memory, and to preserve the memory of the men who fought here. The Battle is still studied by military commands around the world. There is even one of the first National Cemeteries here. Recently the Park has been using the off season (such as it is) to clear non-historic tree growth from the field. They have also been planting young trees in historically accurate areas such as Oak Hill.

Several years ago, the clearing on the south side of Little Round Top (few trees were taken down, but years of scrub and brush were cleaned out) resulted in the re-discovery of the flank markers for the 83rd Pennsylvania, revealing, if they are accurate, that Vincent’s Brigade’s defense on July 2nd was a defense in depth, not a single line of defense. The 83rd was down in front of the rest of the brigade.

More recently, Munshower’s Knoll, a small rise just north of Little Round Top was cleared of trees. This was to be the key to Dan Sickle’s 3rd Corps defensive position. For years, it has been argued that Sickles abandoned his position there because of high ground in front of him, and no good positions where he was ordered to be. Now we see that Sickles indeed had an excellent position assigned to him, and it casts his actions on July 2nd under a much larger cloud than before.

Without the tree clearing these bits of history would have remained obscured.

So, why, having covered the drafting and issuing of the NPS Management Plan over ten years would the Gettysburg Times repeatedly give voice to people writing in and complaining about the trees, and then continue to do so even after Barbara Platts’ most effective piece? The issue is over and dealt with. It is not something done in secret like the Straban Township Supervisors, or even the Adams County Commissioners do, it was done in years of open meetings, and then quite correctly and sincerely dealt with once more by Ms. Platts in the Gettysburg Times. Don’t they read their own paper?

We suppose that growing up in this area (what this blogger refers to as being a “townie”), can condition one to the history and heritage of the area. Perhaps the editorial staff, reporters and owners of the Gettysburg Times look on themselves as “just a business”, and have totally forgotten their context. Recently, they gave vent to the pro-casino folks who castigated their opposition for arguing against the casino being less than a mile from East Cavalry Field, while neglecting the enormously ugly sprawl of the Gateway Gettysburg Project Bob Monahan has inflicted on the same area. That project is far closer to the Park boundary than the proposed casino.

In giving voice to these folks, they neglect to consider that just about everyone who opposes the casino here in the Gettysburg area starts with the premise of no gambling near this historic area. I refer to the Governor, and both Senators from Pennsylvania, to name a few, who have all gone on record as saying a casino is a bad idea for Gettysburg.

So why does the Gettysburg Times place their “release” on the front page above the fold?

There is no doubt the Gettysburg Times is pro-development. They gorge themselves on photos of men in suits lined up with shovels, and on the ends, there will be Tom Weaver, or Steven Maitland, or both.

The Gettysburg Times does not question any elected official, unless he or she be a maverick Democrat, or worse, a Greenie. Some of the absolutely stupidest public official behavior and commentary of recent note was that of Commissioner Tom Weaver who refused to read the No Casino Gettysburg Impact Report on the proposed casino, and refused to attend the meeting, yet made sure he attended the secret one the commissioners scheduled with the casino investors. The Gettysburg Times has consistently failed to question some of the outrageous comments and accusations made by David LeVan and Barbara Ernico of the investor group behind the casino project. To be fair, so has the Hanover Sun, but this is not the Hanover Sun’s fight. This should be the Gettysburg Times’ fight, and they have been decidedly, and unfairly in the corner of the developers on this one.

Early on in the casino fight, late last spring, those inside the No Casino group reached a consensus that if you wanted real news about Gettysburg, and what was going on here, you got the Hanover Sun, not the Gettysburg Times. Unfortunately, that still holds true.

The Hanover Sun used to bend over backwards to insure fair and equitable treatment of both sides of the fight. However, of late, they have been decidedly unfair, almost resigned to not only the casino, but also to the massive development of thousands of houses and commercial centers slated to be built in Straban Township over the next ten years. It will change the face of Adams County, as most of it will be right along US 15. In ten years, those traveling south from Harrisburg and the Turnpike will no longer see the vast open fields and pastures once they pass the “Welcome to Straban Township” sign. Instead, they will see mile after mile of development, and beyond the grass between the lanes, there likely won’t be much green showing. They’ll likely require the sacrifice of that green strip between the lanes, as well, to handle all the traffic. And editor Marc Charisse of the Hanover Sun is of the opinion that fight was over long ago.

Editor Charisse has also apparently forgotten that Civil War preservation is about more than just acreage. His recent editorial chastising the Civil War Preservation Trust for declaring Gettysburg an endangered Battlefield because of the impending casino, totally missed the point of the exercise. The casino will cheapen the name of Gettysburg, no matter what the name of the casino is changed to. It is still a casino, it will still have a Gettysburg address, and the billboards that will advertise the casino on the Turnpike, on Routes 30, 15, and 94, will not say, “Stop into the CrossRoads Casino Resort and Spa at Straban Township”. The TV ads on National TV will not say, “Come to CrossRoads Casino and Resort in Straban Township, just miles north of the Maryland Line”. It will be known, for short, as the CrossRoads at Gettysburg.

Two newspapers, like night and day, one gives a fair accounting of news in an area twenty miles away, and the other slants and obscures news to its own readers and subscribers. It’s a pity, but the last thing you can honestly say about the Gettysburg Times is that it’s free of bias.

If this blogger were a newspaper editor, and had a staff of reporters available, there are a number of stories I’d have them sinking their teeth into, but first and foremost is that of Commerce Bank. Commerce Bank has lost officers to prison in two areas of the state recently for shady (read: corrupt) business dealings with local elected officials. The Feds are investigating them, and having busted some of their officers in the Philadelphia area, they are starting to look farther afield. A smart editor will have his reporters looking into the business dealings of the township supervisors of those townships experiencing high rates of development, and up one level to the County government officials of counties that contain those developing townships.

What Commerce was buying was grease, to ease the way for developers. Favorable loans at very low rates, and not just for the local elected officials, but for family members, and in one case, (if memory serves) a friend. When you get that $500,000 mortgage for the second home you want to build in Florida, and it comes at a very low interest rate, you will be very helpful to others who make mention of your banker, who may very well be contractors and developers funded by that same bank, and trying to get a project approved in your township.

Who knows, there might be a golden opportunity for a sharp young editor and his reporters to break an enormous exclusive, and maybe win a Pulitzer for investigative reporting perhaps.

And we know, the Gettysburg Times is not capable of that.


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