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Battle Hill quarry to wait for potential survey

Battle Hill quarry to wait for potential survey

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FORT ANN — A Connecticut man who wants to use his property on Battle Hill as a mine said he will wait for a potential survey of the area for evidence of exactly where the Revolutionary War battle took place. But Gino Vona remained upset at being denied the opportunity to allow a Troy company to mine his land and suggested there was prejudice against him, because he is from out of town.

“I want to be honest, I got a letter from the (American Legion), and they are going to do a search to find out where the battle was fought, so we’re going to play a waiting game and see if they found out where it really was,” Vona said in a recent telephone interview “My big argument is that Battle Hill is such a big place, why should I be singled out?”

Christine Milligan, vice commander of American Legion Post No. 703, is heading up an application for an American Battlefield Protection Grant for $48,000 to begin researching where on the sprawling hill the fighting took place. The three-hour battle took place July 7, 1777 between Colonial and English forces. Casualty estimates range from 40 to 200.

Milligan said she expected to hear back from the federal government by June and said initial work could begin in August.

“It’s a huge area, we are trying to find the core of the battlefield,” said Milligan, an Air Force veteran. “We need to preserve the history before more progress takes place.”

Milligan said she is unsure how long the project will take and whether additional grant funding will be needed if artifacts are found. “There’s just a lot to do,” she said.

Vona, who has contracted with Troy Topsoil to do the actual work on about 50 acres ran into trouble with his plans last April when a group of residents and historians protested the plan, saying the area was historic and should not be disturbed.

The project has been dormant since then. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation received the mining application in August 2009. DEC concluded Vona’s proposal would substantially impact the surrounding ecology and declared the proposal needed a full environmental review. A state DEC spokesman said the DEC has not received a re-submission.

“I want to know the results of the study,” said Vona, who emigrated to the United States from Italy. “I know at this point I wasted a lot of money.

“I was trying to create jobs and they look at me like I am doing something wrong,” he said. “I have to wonder if it would be different if I was from town. I am an American just like they are.”

Vona points out there are other mines already around the hill, and a researcher for Troy Topsoil contended the actual fighting took place on another part of the hill. He owns about 160 acres and said he will donate a portion of it for historical research if he is able to open the rock quarry.

Milligan said one of her concerns is there has already been so much work in the area of the site. She noted when construction took place on Route 4 in 1933, the workers unearthed bones and said the building of the canal and railroad tracks also had an impact on the site. “There were three fronts of battle, and it is spread out,” she said. “But there were a lot of men, and the main core of the battle must have been bigger than the area most people look at, because you could not fit that many men in one place.”

The Department of the Interior lists Battle Hill as a priority 2 site, which says it was significant, but not at the same level as Fort Ticonderoga and the Saratoga battlefield. The designation does put it among the top 80 significant and threatened sites in the country, according to the department.

The state Official of Historical Preservation is also reviewing the site.

Matthew Zembo, an assistant professor of history at Hudson Valley Community College, agreed with Milligan on the size of the battlefield and also said he does not think Vona’s land is on the battle site.

“The battlefield is a rather large area including the base area and southern-most false summit, parts of Route 4, and some of the fields to the south,” Zembo said. “The proposed quarry itself is actually not on the site of the battle. What appears to be the case is that the core of the battlefield is safe for now but in need of a more permanent solution for long-term protection and preservation.”

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