We hear the latest on the Highway 70 bypass project in Kinston and how it might impact a historic battleground site.
Officials are now in the process of deciding the best way to facilitate construction of a new bypass on Highway 70 in Lenoir County with the least amount of impact to a historic Civil War battleground site. Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughtry is also chairman of the Lenoir County Transportation Committee. He says the highway project is intended to make travel to the coast quicker, and transport of goods across the state easier.
“The Kinston Highway 70 bypass is part of a series of bypasses including Goldsboro which will be finished July 2015. Havelock, which is within a year or so of getting started on getting started. The Kinston bypass and eventually a New Bern bypass.”
Daughtry is also the vice chairman of the Highway 70 Corridor Commission, which monitors all the projects along the highway from Raleigh to the Coast. He’s been working with the DOT to create a single bypass in Lenoir County that will start in LaGrange and will exit the east side of the county near Dover. According to the Department of Transportation, of the 17 routes that are proposed, five run through the site of the Battle of Wyse Fork, fought in 1865. Several Union armies scattered across eastern North Carolina were combining forces with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. Local historian Lonnie Blizzard sets the scene.
“The Wyse Fork Battle really, as Sherman was marching across the south and coming into North Carolina, the Confederates were trying to rally their troops and keep the ones from the eastern part of the State, the Wilmington, New Bern area from getting inland to join forces with Sherman as they moved up towards the center part of the state, Raleigh Goldsboro area.”
The Wyse Fork battle culminated in Kinston being captured by Union forces when Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg facing three Union armies retreated across the Neuse River. Nearly 26,000 troops were involved in the conflict, making it the second largest battle in North Carolina during the Civil War. Lonnie Blizzard is the the President of the nonprofit organization Lenoir County Battlefield Commission, dedicated to preserving local historic sites and battlefields.
“If they would pick the right route and not go through a battlefield that would be the best case scenario. But if they do go through where the battle some parts where the battle took place, and it’s a field that has lost its historical integrity, then personally, I don’t see a major problem with it.”
If the Department of Transportation decides to locate the bypass on the battlefield, Blizzard thinks they should provide funds to help restore another area on the site.
“It think it could be a positive. It’s just a matter of using common sense and working with the DOT and the route and roads they take have the least damage. If there’s going to be any damage, mitigate for it.”
With the possibility of proposed bypass routes potentially impacting the battlefield, Lenoir County Commissioner Daughtry says it’s impossible to keep development from encroaching on the site because the area is so large. The battlefield is estimated to be 5 to 7 square miles.
“You can’t protect a whole battlefield. Because if you did, we’d have a dilemma because there already exists on that battlefield, because of the size and the scope of the Wyse Fork battlefield, you’d have to take up existing Highway 70 in Lenoir County in the south and you’d have to take up existing Highway 258 because both of those already exist and run through the Wyse Fork Battlefield.”
But not all the impacts of the bypass may be negative. Daughtry says if the DOT decides to build a bypass on the battlefield, it could bring greater visibility to the historical significance of the site.
“You can always look at things from two standpoints, you can say oh my gosh its coming through and we don’t want it to run through the battlefield, but you can also take a look and say, if the local preservation folks come in and sit down with us and say hey, let’s partner with DOT. If it’s going to come through here, let’s take advantage of this opportunity and let’s advertise, let’s put signage up and make sure that when folks come through here, they understand where it is and the significance of it.”
With the many different interests, including the Department of Transportation, Lenoir County officials, and historical preservation, it takes time to work through the details of the project and reach a compromise. Currently, an environmental impact study is underway. The results are due in early next year. In 2015, DOT hopes to identify a preferred alternative and hold public meetings. Construction could start between the year 2017 and 2020. I’m Jared Brumbaugh.