Battle over development of historic battlefield in Princeton

PRINCETON, N.J. (WPVI) -- A new battle is raging on an historic battlefield in Princeton, New Jersey. The site of a major Revolutionary victory of American troops over the British could soon be faculty housing for a learning institute.

In 1777 General George Washington and his rag-tag troops scored a major victory over the British at the Battle of Princeton. 238 years after that Revolutionary War showdown another battle is raging over Maxwell's Field - the very land where that fight took place.

Jim Lighthizer from the Civil War Trust explains, "This is inarguably some of the most sacred ground in American history. It's where, literally, the fate of the Republic was decided."

But the Institute for Advanced Study, a theoretical research center where physicist Albert Einstein taught, has begun preparing a seven acre tract of land it owns adjacent to the battlefield to make way for faculty housing.

Jerry Hurwitz from the Princeton Battlefield Society says, "This ground is as important as let's say Omaha Beach is at D-Day."

Concerned that precious artifacts and what they call "hallowed ground" will be lost, preservation groups have been aggressively fighting the project in court for years.

Critics recently convinced a bipartisan New Jersey Senate committee to demand state environmental officials answer questions about permits they issued after hearing testimony alleging the institute concealed information it would be building on wetlands.

Bruce Afran, Battlefied Society Attorney, says, "What you hear today is indisputable evidence of environmental fraud by the institute for Advanced Study and the state regulators, the DEP, closing its eyes."

Republican Sen. Bob Smith, who chairs the State Environmental Committee, says, "That clarification is needed before irreparable harm is done to the battlefield."

The Institute for Advanced Study would not address accusations of fraud and declined an interview, relying on a statement released in early December saying it plans to move ahead and "has received all necessary approvals and permissions from the relevant agencies."

Kip Cherry from the Princeton Battlefield Society says, "It feels like another battle, yes. But we believe in what we're doing and so we've always kept that close."

And so, the fight over this storied piece land continues.
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