Thousands submit comments opposed to water project

Governor Ralph Northam meets with representatives of the Monacan Indian Nation during a recent visit to Point of Fork on the James River, where the tribe says its ancestral capital Rassawek was located. The tribe has pressured the James River Water Authority to relocate a water pump station and pipeline two miles upstream.

Thousands of individuals and organizations have advised federal officials not to give the James River Water Authority a permit to build a pump station where advocates say the ancestral capital city of the Monacan Indian Nation was located.

Cultural Heritage Partners, the law firm representing the tribe, released a list on June 8 of some of the 12,000 individuals and groups that contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to comment on the matter. The Army Corps had set June 7 as the deadline for the public to make comments on the proposed water project.

Among those submitting comments were the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc., the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes and the National Congress of American Indians, a 75-year-old organization that represents tribal governments and communities. The latter issued the following statement:

“In light of previous archaeological findings, the historic and cultural significance of Rassawek to the Monacan Indian Nation and to the United States, and the potential impacts the proposed project will have on those resources, NCAI requests that [the Army Corps] conduct an [environmental impact statement], including full consideration of the “Forsyth Alternative,” as requested by the Monacan Indian Nation.” 

The Monacans proposed in March to shift the pump station site upstream two miles to the Forsyth site, owned by Richard and Julia Rose. The water authority, formed by Louisa and Fluvanna counties to administer the water project, rejected the Forsyth alternative as impractical because of an expected $10 million or more in additional development costs. 

The entire water project, including a pipeline to the Ferncliff water treatment plant and to Zion Crossroads, was priced at about $50 million in 2015, not including the cost of paying interest on debt.

In comments to the Army Corps, the state Department of Historic Resources made its strongest public statement to date against siting the pump station and pipeline at Rassawek, as the Monacans’ city was called:

“The importance of the historical capital of Rassawek and tribal identity lies not only in the material remains of the town and the graves of those who lived there, but also to the sacred place known today as Point of Fork … DHR strongly recommends against pursuing the preferred alternative due to the archaeological and cultural impacts to Rassawek.” 

A number of other historic preservation agencies, faith communities including Quaker and Episcopal church divisions and public officials, including Virginia Congressman A. Donald McEachin, also submitted comments in opposition to the water project.

Not one comment was submitted to the Army Corps in support of the James River Water Authority, according to Cultural Heritage Partners.

The law firm claims Timmons Group, the water authority’s consultant, should not have prepared the alternatives analysis sent to the Army Corps in March, because it has a “direct financial interest” in the outcome of the project.

The Army Corps must now decide whether to require an environmental impact statement, which would involve significant additional review of the water project. 

The James River Water Authority is scheduled to meet on June 10 at 9 a.m. at the Kents Store ARC Community Center in Fluvanna County. Several members of the public criticized the authority at its March 11 meeting for holding a public meeting inside Spring Creek subdivision, a gated community.

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