Development of a water intake and pump station in Fluvanna County will likely be moved away from the historic capital of the Monacan Indian Nation, after research has revealed little evidence of burial artifacts at a possible new site.
The James River Water Authority, or JRWA, received an update from its archaeology consultant at its meeting Wednesday.
The original project site is near Point of Fork at the confluence of the Rivanna and James Rivers, which played a role in the Revolutionary War and also is known as Rassawek, the historic capital of the Monacan Indian Nation. The tribe asked that the authority consider an alternative site about 2.3 miles upstream due to potential burials around Rassawek.
As early as its January meeting, the authority’s board could vote to have the project consultants develop a new permit application for the alternative site.
An archaeological resources survey was completed last week, and consultants said they found “fewer artifacts than were expected,” as the site is in a floodplain. The archaeologists found no evidence of any actual or potential burials.
“Often, sites are very intensely used, and many artifacts are found in testing like this. We found very few,” said Jonathan Glenn, a cultural resources manager with GAI Consultants, the firm JRWA is consulting with for archaeological work. “We found very few features like fire pits or post holes, things like that, to suggest sites were there. …There was no evidence to suggest that burials are present.”
The water intake and pump station is part of a larger project through the JRWA to bring water from the James River to a water treatment facility in Louisa County that ultimately would serve the Zion Crossroads area. The JRWA is a joint entity of Fluvanna and Louisa that was formed in 2009 to manage the overall project.
The tribe has been engaged in conversations with the authority and other agencies involved in the project since 2017, but came out publicly against the water intake and pump station in 2019 because they thought burials possibly happened at that site.
In 2020, the authority board decided to pause a pending U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit application to study a potential alternative site, known as the 1C Forsyth alternative, for the project. The Monacans had urged the board to consider the potential alternative, which is about 2.3 miles upstream from the original recommended and proposed site.
Earlier this year, the tribe made formal commitments to the authority to “collaborate fully and expeditiously with JRWA toward reaching an agreement on a Treatment Plan for construction” of the project if it ultimately decides to move the water project away from the Point of Fork area, and if testing did not confirm or strongly indicate the presence of human remains on an alternative route.
Greg Werkheiser, an attorney for the Monacans, said this initial information was seen as “so far, so good.”
“But the report, the investigation, has not yet been released,” he said. “When it is, we’ll be able to reach a conclusion as to whether or not this path is viable.”
Justin Curtis, an attorney for JRWA, said the project team is working to develop more information on budgets and the timeline for the next steps.
“This time next month, when we come to address the board, the project team will be anticipating making a recommendation and proposal to the board that the board authorized the development of a permit application for a pump station at the 1C alternative location,” he said.
As part of the survey, Glenn said the archaeologists conducted background research into previous sites in the area, the land use history of the area and settling patterns, and developed a sampling plan using state guidelines.
Archaeologists then conducted a series of hand-dug shovel tests every 50 feet, or 1,364 tests. Based on findings from that testing, and places where the project has potential to impact deep deposits, 24 trenches ranging from four feet to 12 feet were dug. Trenches were used to look for evidence of archaeological sites, trying to determine if sites exist at different depths and whether there’s potential for significant sites in any of those steps, Glenn said.
The archaeological consultants worked with representatives from the Monacan Nation and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources around the sampling plan and the shovel test results, and they were also invited to observe the trench testing.
Glenn showed some examples of items that were found, including an arrowhead or a small blade, prehistoric pottery and a handle of a wood chopping tool, or a grinding tool.
The next step is to produce a full phase one technical report, which will include an analysis of artifacts, radiocarbon dating samples and soil data, and interpret the sites to assess whether they have potential to be considered an important site.
“From that, the archaeologists in that same report will put together recommendations for additional testing, referred to as phase two, and select areas or select depths if they feel that that is warranted,” he said. “That report is then provided to the Department of Historic Resources and would be provided to the Monacan Nation as well to discuss the results.”
Curtis said the report should be available before the board’s January meeting.
Joe Hines, with Timmons Group, the consulting firm managing the project, said the firm will be working on a concept design based on the findings.
“Based on the findings that we have here, we would work with the archaeological team to see if we need to adjust our excavation footprint or realign the pipeline … to try to make sure that we minimize those impacts with the costs associated with those impacts moving forward,” he said.
Timmons will also need to do a formal topographical survey along the pipeline corridor, a wetlands delineation and may need to do geotechnical borings at the proposed pump station site, Hines said. The firm is working on a budget to get to the board for approval in January.
“As many of you are aware, we’re seeing really unprecedented supply chain issues and materials pricing increases like we’ve never seen before in the industry,” Hines said. “Obviously we want to get stuff done as quickly as possible, get y’alls pricing locked down as soon as possible.”