Sunday, October 31, 2004


History unearthed at potential dredge site

By Matt Pacenza, Staff writer

American Indian artifacts at Schaghticoke a new factor in EPA decision

FORT EDWARD -- American Indian artifacts have been discovered in Schaghticoke where federal environmental officials are considering building a plant for processing PCB-contaminated mud dredged from the Hudson River.

Archaeologists hired by the Environmental Protection Agency found sharp stone points that may have been arrow or spear heads as well as shards of ceramic pots and stones used for scraping leather at the Bruno property off Knickerbocker Road.

EPA officials were quick to say the discovery is just one of many factors the agency will consider as it decides whether to place a dewatering plant in Schaghticoke, Fort Edward or Bethlehem. The agency has said it could pick one, two or all three of those sites. A decision is expected by the end of this year.

The National Historic Preservation Act requires the EPA to consider what impact its six-year, $500 million dredging project will have on area cultural and historical resources.

American Indian artifacts were not found at the Bethlehem or Fort Edward properties, most likely because development at those sites had buried or destroyed any antiquities.

The choice of who will host the dewatering sites has provoked controversy up and down the river. Residents and elected officials near the proposed sites fear that dewatering will be a loud, stinky industrial operation with heavy truck and rail traffic.

At a dewatering facility, mud from the Hudson will be squeezed dry. The wastewater will be treated and returned to the river, while the PCB waste will be shipped via rail to a secure facility outside the Hudson Valley.

By far the most stringent opposition to such a site has come from Schaghticoke, where worried residents created a dynamic grass-roots organization, which packed public meetings and sent more than 1,500 comments to the EPA.

The agency doesn't want to disrupt the resources that make neighborhoods unique, said John Vetter, the EPA's national expert on archaeology, as he addressed a community advisory meeting Thursday in Fort Edward.

"You can't appreciate the sense of place, the fabric of a community, if you superimpose objects from the contemporary world," Vetter said.

The EPA review also considers the impact dredging could have on local historical resources like canals, bridges and homes. One example is the 1709 Knickerbocker Mansion near the proposed site in Schaghticoke.

Historians believe the home was built near a tree planted to signify a peace agreement from 1676 between Dutch, English and French settlers and the Mohawks, Hoosacks, Schaghticokes, Abenakis and Pennacooks.

Panamerican Consultants, the Alabama-based archaeological firm with an office in Buffalo, did sample digs at the proposed Schaghticoke site this summer.

"What we found below ground was cooking and more cooking," said Vetter. Evidence of hearths used for preparing food was discovered in multiple locations.

Additional excavation at the site is planned, Vetter said. Officials also hope to figure out what the native people ate, he said.

The discovery of American Indian artifacts has disrupted big projects in the region previously.

In 1996, Wal-Mart withdrew a plan to build a 146,000-square-foot store in Catskill after Mohicans protested that the stores would dishonor remains and artifacts of their ancestors found at the site in the hamlet of Leeds.

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