The James River Water Authority has strongly denied allegations of improper conduct during an archeological dig near the site where Louisa County hopes to draw its future public water supply.
In a 35-page memo released on Jan. 15, the authority's counsel accused the whistleblower, Eric Mai, of misleading or false statements. Mai, a former employee of Circa, the Williamsburg-based company hired to manage cultural resource work at the James River site, made the assertions in October in a sworn statement provided to the Monacan Indian Nation.
“Counsel does not find any specific allegations in the Mai Declaration sufficiently credible” to justify further action, wrote Justin Curtis, the authority’s counsel and AquaLaw vice-president.
Curtis did not interview Mai or other Circa staff besides Carol Tyrer, the company’s president. He did collect information from employees of Timmons Group and Faulconer, which worked with Circa as part of the water authority’s team of contractors.
“JRWA investigated itself and found itself innocent. We are not shocked,” said Greg Werkheiser, an attorney for Cultural Heritage Partners, which represents the Monacans. “This reads more like a bad defense brief than a legitimate attempt to find facts. The Monacan Indian Nation reiterates its call for a legitimate independent investigation.”
The Monacans are pushing the authority to relocate a planned water pump station and pipeline away from what the tribe says is the ancestral location of Rassawek, their capital city prior to white settlement in the 1600s.
Curtis challenged Mai’s claims that Tyrer had provided misleading information about artifacts found at the site. He said Mai had provided “an opinion without any factual basis. Counsel does not have sufficient information to evaluate that opinion.”
Mai also claimed that Tyrer used inexperienced staff. He said while he has a master’s degree, other workers lacked college degrees or formal training investigating Native American sites.
Three of Tyrer’s employees on the site, including Mai, had at least five years of work experience, though they did not have training prior to joining the company, Curtis said. An experienced geoarcheologist, Dan Hayes, was also on site for a portion of the work, Curtis said, citing billing records. Curtis said Tyrer told him more experienced staff came to work at the site later, though they are not named in the memo.
Curtis said there were no grounds for questioning the use of workers from Faulconer Construction Company, the authority’s contractor, to assist with archeological work. Citing an interview with a Faulconer employee, he said they were supervised by Circa staff and did not take on tasks they were not suited for.
In response to Mai’s statement that he and other Circa staff had to use outdated technology such as a compass, Tyrer told Curtis that her staff did have GPS devices for use in the field to take accurate measurements. Even if Mai was correct, Curtis said, a compass should have been a reliable tool.
“The former employee alleged that staff were provided only hand-drawn maps and compasses and had to ‘guess’ the site boundaries,” Curtis said in a written statement. “However, billing records and photographs from the archeological study confirm that a survey team clearly staked out the site boundaries and key locations prior to the study.”
Mai claimed that Tyrer had changed the content of his resume to exaggerate his experience working with Native American artifacts and to suggest he was qualified to be a site supervisor. But his statements are contradicted by resume versions Mai himself submitted, Curtis wrote. The attorney added that Mai listed himself as a field supervisor on his LinkedIn social media page until shortly after he released his sworn statement.
“The nature and timing of the revisions to Mai’s LinkedIn page suggest a deliberate intention to conceal evidence,” Curtis wrote.
A significant portion of the authority’s memo is in response to Mai’s allegation that Tyrer misled the Department of Historic Resources about whether she directly supervised her staff at the site. Mai suggested she was often not present and tried to get her staff to lie on her behalf.
Tyrer acknowledged that one of her employees, Charlie Rutledge, might have misconstrued that she wanted him to lie to DHR in one instance about her whereabouts, according to Curtis. In any case, Tyrer added, Rutledge told the truth.
Curtis noted that his memo does not address the separate matter of whether Carol Tyrer, Circa’s director, was qualified to oversee the archeological dig. Julie Langan, Virginia Department of Historic Resources director, said last fall her agency would not issue a burial permit needed for construction to proceed until Tyrer was replaced. The authority hired another firm, GAI Consultants Inc., to review Circa’s work, and Curtis said Circa is being retained on “a limited on-call basis.”