HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Eminent domain issues are heating up on the Peninsula. VDOT expansion plans for I-64 have created uproar at Hampton University.
150 years ago, history took root in Hampton under the Emancipation Oak.
“It’s more than just a tree. It’s symbolic,” Tarence Man said he stood with his wife, Traci, underneath the tree.
It was a special stop on their trip from California to see a piece of Virginia history. Through the leaves, you can see the future on the other side: I-64. Nearby is part of the highway the state plans to expand.
“It would endanger, take, or damage property of Hampton University, which is all recognized by the national register of historic places,” attorney Joe Waldo said.
Joe Waldo represents the university in the matter. Waldo said first VDOT would take part of Strawberry Banks near the James River.
“That’s where during the Civil War hundreds of thousands of slaves were massed under the protection of the Union General Butler,” Waldo said.
A spokesperson for VDOT said the land isn’t listed on the historic registry.
Waldo said the other area in question runs next to the Emancipation Oak. VDOT said the plans would not move the highway any closer to the historic tree or put any equipment near it.
Still, this is a battle that Waldo said the university will take all the way to Supreme Court of Virginia.
“Hampton University’s position is ‘not one inch,’” Waldo said.
VDOT said none of their plans will affect the Emancipation Oak at all. A spokesperson said their study shows that the widening will actually improve air quality.