Note: This version of the article has been updated with some additional information that will not be in the print edition.
The Monacan Indian Nation and the James River Water Authority took a big step this week toward resolving their differences, but questions remain.
The authority agreed at its Oct. 14 meeting to study an alternative location for a water pump station and pipeline that would send water from the river to Louisa County. The site is located two miles upstream from the current project location, near Point of Fork in Fluvanna County.
“What this will tell us is whether this is a viable site,” said Justin Curtis, the water authority’s attorney. “The [Monacans] say this is their preferred site. This will tell us if it meets their criteria.”
He cautioned that wouldn’t guarantee the project site would change. Moving the location is certain to add significantly to the total expense. The water authority asked the Corps of Engineers to reject the Forsyth site, as the alternate site is known, earlier this year, citing the cost difference.
Greg Werkheiser, of Cultural Heritage Partners, the law firm representing the Monacans, said the Richmond-based consultants Gray & Pape, Inc. will be hired to carry out an archeological survey on the Forsyth property to determine if there are human remains or artifacts there.
The Monacans strongly objected to the consultant who did the archeological work on the current project site, saying she was unqualified. The Department of Historic Resources agreed, noting the consultant did not have the right academic degree. The water authority disputed the claim but later hired a new company, GAI Consultants. That firm will manage the archeological study, but Gray & Pape will do the fieldwork.
Numerous artifacts were found during an archeological dig in 2017 and 2018 at the current project location, near the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers. The Monacans consider this to be the historical site of Rassawek, which was their capital city at some point prior to white settlement in the 1600s.
No human remains have been found to date at Point of Fork, but remains were found during two previous digs in the late 19th century and in the 1980s. The Monacans believe more could be uncovered if the pump station’s construction goes forward there.
The archeological study of the Forsyth site will cost about $155,000, Curtis said. He said the process could last 30 to 90 days.
Moving the site two miles upstream may add between $5 and $10 million to the total cost, although the authority and Monacans differ on the details.
“The [Monacan] tribe ... is hopeful the study reveals the impacts are substantially less harmful than the planned path through the heart of Rassawek,” said Werkheiser.