A controversial Confederate flag that sits off of I-95 in Stafford County is coming down.
Hartwood District Supervisor Gary Snellings on Tuesday, Oct. 27 took to his Facebook page to announce that the 80-foot-tall Confederate battle flag that stands next to Interstate 95 near Falmouth will come down by the end of the week.
That post had been removed from the social media platform by day’s end, but another post made by Garrisonville District Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer corroborated Snellings’ announcement.
According to county officials, The Virginia Department of Transportation acquired the private property on which the flag stands through eminent domain for the I-95 Northbound Rappahannock River crossing project, which aims to replace four bridges at Exit 133, the I-95 and Route interchange, and add a third bridge span over the Rappahannock River.
VDOT acquired 10 parcels of land north of Exit 133 which will be used for a new ramp to a future extension of the 95 Express Lanes. One of them is a plot of land used by the Virginia Flaggers who raised the 80-foot Confederate battle flag in 2014. VDOT compensated the property owner for the land and The Flaggers as a tenant for the flagpole due to right-of-way requirements, according to county officials.
PLN is working to learn how much taxpayers paid for the parcel of land, and we’ll update this post when we have this information.
The confederate flag has been at the center of controversy since its raising in 2014. Residents, activists, and public officials have decried the flag’s existence but possible solutions were stymied for various legal reasons.
In September 2017, for example, then Stafford County Attorney Charles L. Shumate explained at a Board of Supervisors meeting why the county couldn’t remove the flag. Shumate explained that First Amendment and private property issues had tied the hands of the county, preventing the local government from removing the flag.
“If we were to, or this board were contrary to my legal advice, attempt to take down that flag flagpole on private property — this is not governmental property, it’s always a distinction there. If this was governmental property it could be handled differently. It is private property, privately owned, private flag, private poll,” stated Shumate in 2017.
Later on in that meeting, Shumate explained that any attempt to remove the battle flag would most likely be met with a lawsuit by The Virginia Flaggers. The Stafford County Board of Supervisors had also made attempts in the past to negotiate the removal of the flag with the landowners but were unsuccessful.
At a political review held by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at the Fredericksburg Branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in October 2018, George Washington District Supervisor Tom Coen fielded questions from an audience which included the removal of the flag. Coen stated during that review that attempts at negotiation had been attempted by ultimately led nowhere.
As recently as July 2020 the Board of Supervisors looked at passing new ordinances on the height of flagpoles in the county that were believed could be applied to the battle flag. The resolution would have set the maximum flagpole height in residential/agricultural zones would be 35 feet, and the maximum height in commercial areas would be 65 feet. This would have affected the Confederate battle flag since it sat at a height of 80 feet.
It should be noted that during the aforementioned Sept. 2017 Board of Supervisors meeting Attorney Shumate acknowledged this idea and stated that this ordinance would probably not have the desired effect since the battle flag could be grandfathered into any such new ordinance:
“Many people have said you could “you just pass another zoning ordinance that reduces the height of the other flag. If you could do it in the proper way, you could do that. You could go to a [35-foot pole], you could go to [25-foot pole]. But this flagpole would be grandfathered it will become a non-conforming use and it will remain. You will not be able to reduce the height of this flagpole through a new zoning ordinance that you would pass so that pole and the flag on it would remain.”