Formal Comments by the Council to the Corps of Engineers


September 23, 2005

Peter K. Dodgion Chief, Environmental Analysis Section
U. S. Army Engineer District
502 8th Street
Huntington, West Virginia
25701-2070

Subject: DEA and DFONSI for PK-8 War School

Dear Mr. Dodgion:

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with your staff and the School Board concerning the implementation of Project Archeology in the McDowell County Schools. Members of the Council for West Virginia Archaeology (CFWVA) were impressed and gratified with the response to the Project Archeology Program. In terms of the Draft Environmental Assessment for the New PK-8 War School Project, the Council believes that the project will have an adverse effect on a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) eligible archeological site (46MD61). The archeological site at War has an important Woodland component that qualifies for the NRHP under Criterion D. It is the only recorded site in McDowell County that has produced pottery. It also produced five post molds that indicate the possibility of finding Woodland house patterns. The site also has the archeological remains of a possible coal miner's house, which may also eligible for the NRHP under Criterion D. During the evaluation, only 13 square meters of the site were excavated, which does not provide an adequate sample to interpret the Woodland and Historic period components, to develop an adequate preservation plan, or to determine how much of the site should be excavated for archeological mitigation.

Under the current proposal we were told that there would be no more archeological investigations and no archeological mitigation. The Corps intends to spend $45,000 on archeological curriculum development in the McDowell County school system in lieu of archeological mitigation. The archeological site would be preserved by placing fill over part of it and building a new school on top of the site. A professional archeologist will monitor the construction of trenches and utilities, collect artifacts and map features but would not be permitted to conduct excavations. While activities for the public, such as websites, films, brochures, curriculum development, and active participation in Project Archeology, are encouraged and have become a part of archeological mitigation, these are not considered archeological mitigation by themselves, and do not fulfill the legal requirements of archeological mitigation. For example, the Corps produced the film Red Salt & Reynolds as part of a five million dollar mitigation project. Ghosts of Green Bottom was produced after several hundred thousand dollars of archeological testing.

Site burial as a form of preservation is inappropriate when the age of the site and the nature of the occupation can't be determined and the impact of construction activities on the site has not been assessed. How much of the site will be destroyed by removing the sod layer? How much of the site will be destroyed by placement of utility trenches and compaction of the fill? How much information will actually be preserved and accessible in the future?

The McDowell County project was discussed with the National Chairman of Project Archeology, Jeanne Moe, and she has advised the CFWVA not to take the offer. Project Archeology promotes stewardship of our nation's archeological resources and, as designed, this project is a poor example of stewardship and is in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act. Furthermore, it sets an irresponsible precedent for archeological mitigation in West Virginia. If the Corps is permitted to execute this agreement, every federal, state, and local agency would be donating money to Project Archeology in order to avoid the cost of archeological mitigation. The Corps' argument that this is a unique case is not substantiated with any realistic evidence. The Corps' argument is based on a total lack of understanding of construction schedules and construction sequencing and is filled with contradictory statements. Arguments that the Corps can't do the mitigation because they don't have the money ($63 million) and that mitigation impacts the construction schedule (does construction start in December or April?) are not legal justifications for non-compliance with Section 106 and the National Environmental Protection Act.

The meeting brought to light several disturbing facts about the McDowell County School Relocation Program. According to the Corps, the program will cost a total of $63 million and the Corps will provide $43 million in funds. Of this no money was programmed for archeological mitigation. In terms of funding, under current federal law it is our understanding that up to 1% of project funds can be spent on archeological mitigation, which would be $630,000. Documentation of historic structures, archeological survey, testing, and evaluation are not included under archeological mitigation, a determination previously made on the Marmet Project.

Federally recognized Indian tribes should be consulted prior to designing mitigation plans. Oral tradition places the Shawnee in McDowell County in several places. Black Wolf Town is where a minor Shawnee War Chief lived until 1854. Flavious Floyd Harman married one of Black Wolf's granddaughters in 1901. Many Shawnee men worked cutting timber for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad under Harmon. Other Shawnee locations include Skygusky, Shawnee Mountain, and the Community of War. The Big Owl Creek Community of Shawnee was located on Big Creek. Johnnycake, Beartown, Puncheeancamp, Indian Ridge, and the Harmon Branch of Tug Fork reportedly had Shawnee communities. Sugarcamp and White Oak are also related to earlier Shawnee occupations. In addition, McDowell County is in the portion of West Virginia that was claimed as Cherokee territory before European contact. The Tug Fork was also known as the Totteras and oral tradition holds that the Totteroy or Tutelo resided there. The Council for West Virginia Archaeology is interested in getting this project in compliance and on schedule. We have the following recommendations:

1. Get accurate time and cost estimates for further testing and mitigation of the site.
2. Instruct the design and construction people to incorporate the archeological mitigation into the construction schedule.
3. Determine with the School Board what type of mitigation would be most beneficial to the school system-i.e., doing it as cheaply as possible, building in Project Archeology, publishing in Wonderful West Virginia and professional journals.
4. Coordinate the project with Native American tribes and the Council for West Virginia Archaeology.
5. Develop a MOA to cover the archeological mitigation and include the Council for West Virginia Archaeology as an interested party.

Sincerely,

Dr. Robert F. Maslowski, RPA
President
Council For West Virginia Archaeology, Inc.

© 2005
Council for West Virginia Archaeology (CWVA) unless otherwise noted.