A planned water intake and pump station slated to be built along the James River on the site of the ancient village of Rassawek, the historic capital of the Monacan Tribe, could be delayed after officials determined an archaeologist consulting on the project was unqualified.
The ramifications of that finding could affect projects beyond the Fluvanna County pump station, officials with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources said. For the local project, the finding means a delay but not necessarily an end. However, the Monacan Tribe is hoping a new archaeologist will recommend a new site.
An official with the James River Water Authority, the entity in charge of the project, said the authority will be contesting the decision.
The pump station is slated for construction at Point of Fork, also known as Rassawek, and the project has been discussed for years. But now, after the Department of Historic Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers discovered the problem with archaeologist Carol Tyrer and her Williamsburg firm, Circa~ Cultural Resource Management LLC, they are requiring JRWA to submit new permit applications.
The water intake and pump station is part of a larger project through the water authority to bring water from the James River to a water treatment facility in Louisa County that ultimately would serve the Zion Crossroads area in Fluvanna and Louisa.
Tyrer and Circa~ had completed a cultural resources survey of the site and a treatment plan.
Julie Langan, VDHR director and state historic preservation officer, said Tyrer’s qualifications were part of the reason they were asking JRWA for a resubmission of the permit application for archaeological excavation of human remains.
“They would need to resubmit it and need to complete the sections that have been left incomplete ... and they would have to propose a different consulting team of archaeologists,” she said.
Langan said that there are federal standards that define certain preservation professions, including archaeologists. Since Tyrer works as an archaeologist, she would need to meet the standards for archaeology.
“A closer review of her credentials revealed that she does not meet those qualification standards,” Langan said.
In a letter from Langan to Tyrer, Langan said the “decision has consequences, and not just for the James River Water Authority Project.”
“For example, going forward I will be unable to issue a burial permit when the application identifies you as the principal investigator,” Langan’s letter said.
Langan said Friday that they are reviewing current projects Circa~ is involved in and will be notifying applicants regarding the status of those projects. She said it’s unknown how many projects that will be at this time.
“... And we may never know for sure because we can only count those that have already initiated contact with us, but the firm could be under contract for a project that we haven't seen yet, and there's no way for us to know that,” she said.
Tyrer did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
“Everyone has wondered why JRWA would have chosen to locate their project on Rassawek[, and] now we know; they relied on advice from a consultant whom DHR has determined lacks the minimum professional requirements,” said Marion Werkheiser, managing attorney of Cultural Heritage Partners and counsel to the Monacan Indian Nation.
“Now that JRWA is obligated to hire a qualified professional, undoubtedly they will be advised that this project should never be built at Rassawek,” Werkheiser said.
JRWA is contesting the findings.
“The water authority disagrees with several of the factual statements and legal conclusions in the director’s letter, and the authority will be submitting a formal written response to DHR in the near future,” JWRA attorney Justin Curtis said.
He declined to comment on the specific disagreements Friday.
“We are going to point out what we believe are errors and ask DHR to reconsider the decision,” he said.
According to a letter obtained by Werkheiser from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Fluvanna and Louisa county administrators, the Corps wants a standard individual permit.
“Based on concerns and uncertainty regarding the proposed project’s impacts to historic properties, the Corps has determined that further analysis supporting the public interest evaluation is required,” said the letter, signed by William T. Walker, the chief of the regulatory branch. “To facilitate this evaluation, we have determined that the appropriate permitting process for this proposed activity is the standard individual permit process.”
A standard individual permit requires more review than a nationwide permit, which the water authority had submitted.
“Should you decide to pursue this project as proposed, please contact our office for instructions on applying for a Department of the Army standard individual permit,” the letter from the Corps stated.
“It's our understanding that we will not be resubmitting any application, we will continue with the same application,” Curtis said.
“We will have to provide some additional supplemental information, just because the individual permit includes a few additional informational requirements that are not required to obtain a nationwide permit,” he said.
Curtis said he didn’t think the resubmittal of the VDHR permit would set the project back, but he did not know how much additional time the Corps process could take.
“We’re still evaluating how that affects the schedule, and we haven't had an opportunity to sit down and meet with the Corps and discuss the next steps and the process for moving forward yet, and I think we'll have a better understanding of the timeline and the permit processing time, and if or how this affects the schedule once we've had a chance to sit down and meet with them to discuss it,” he said.
An RFP was issued by the authority in August for “qualified individuals or firms to provide cultural resource and archaeological services to the JRWA.”
At the JRWA’s September meeting, interviews were conducted, but Curtis said the authority has not yet made a decision.
He said the RFP for additional consultants was put out in response to some of the comments and requests made for peer review for some of the documents that have been prepared to date by Tyrer and her firm.
“The intention behind hiring an additional archaeological firm is to bring on additional help, to serve the role of peer review and just to provide additional review going forward,” Curtis said.
“The bottom line is the action taken by the board to issue the RFP is directly in response to the request to have the existing consultants work peer reviewed and reviewed by others,” he said.
Other consultants have reviewed the work thus far, he said, as well as other state entities and the Monacan Tribe.
“We'll have a lot of different sets of eyes who have looked over these documents by the time we're done,” he said.
The JRWA board is holding a special meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Spring Creek Golf Course pro shop building in Zion Crossroads.