Last week the Loudoun Chapter of the NAACP and several other local organizations held a press briefing at the Belmont Slave Cemetery where community stakeholders pointed out damage and encroachment on the cemetery due to the Belmont Ridge Road/Route 7 Interchange project.
According to Phillip Thompson, Loudoun NAACP President, Loudoun County officials recently stated there was no encroachment or impact of the site from the construction project.
Thompson and leaders at the Loudoun Freedom Center, a non-profit in Lansdowne, VA, disagree with the County’s assessment which has now caused Thompson to dig deeper.
On Tuesday, Thompson sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Charles Kirkpatrick, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation, for copies of all studies, reports and evaluations conducted on the Belmont Slave Cemetery as part of the Belmont Ridge Road/Route 7 Interchange project.
Thompson’s request stated that VDOT is required, as part of its planning for a project, to identifying and make determinations on cultural and historically significant resources and sites that may be impacted by the proposed construction project. Moreover, develop mitigation and protocols to protect those resources and sites.
“This information is critical in determining if VDOT and the County actually evaluated the site prior to construction and put mitigation plans in place to protect the site from damage and encroachment,” Thompson said.
The FOIA request was also sent to county officials to determine if the County conducted its own assessment.
The documents Thompson requested will help determine if VDOT and the county complied with the proper review protocol. Should the documents support the NAACP’s suspicions that VDOT and the county failed to properly survey and protect the site, Thompson hopes the county will retroactively mitigate any further disturbance of the cemetery, and provide funding to help restore and protect it.
In a letter this week to Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, Thompson stated that the Loudoun NAACP does not feel the issues as they relate to the Belmont Slave Cemetery are isolated. In 2003, a survey of historic African American sites was performed by the County. Thompson feels this survey needs a more comprehensive update to include actual site conditions. A formal request by the Loudoun NAACP to update that survey is anticipated.
Thompson’s letter ended with, “We hope to be able [to] maintain a cooperative, rather than an adversarial position with Loudoun County.”