To the editor:

I attended the James River Water Authority meeting last week. At the meeting in March in Louisa about 100 people came and 50 spoke against situating the water pumping station on top of Rassawek, the principal town of the Monacan Nation.

This project has been plagued with problems of mismanagement and has frittered away millions of our tax dollars. A pipeline was built before a permit for a pumping station was issued. Even a preschooler setting up her wooden train set knows that you must have a starting and ending point in order to determine the route in between. 

The archaeological consultant hired was found by the state to be unqualified to make recommendations after a whistleblower filed a complaint in October 2019 about destroying artifacts. I wonder when we will be reimbursed for the fees paid to that firm. 

At the March meeting the JRWA board heard from local people, experts at Preservation Virginia and the Southern Environmental Law Center and, most important of all, the Monacan nation, the largest tribal community in the Commonwealth. All unanimously supported stopping the plan to destroy their historic capital of Rassawek and instead to choose any of several alternatives.

 Then the Army Corps of Engineers invited public comments on the matter. Over 12,000 individuals and groups commented against the destruction of Rassawek. I went to the June meeting to ask the board how it feels to have 12,000 people unanimously tell you that you are wrong. I bet it feels pretty bad, and it should. The meeting was held in Fluvanna and despite being in the middle of a pandemic, no virtual option was offered. Only three people spoke and all opposed obliteration of sacred Monacan burials. 

I was appalled when the attorney for the JRWA, Justin Curtis, admonished citizens for daring to exercise their First Amendment rights and criticize the record of the board. Our tax dollars are paying him to deride myself and others for braving the health risks of a pandemic to remind the board of what at least 12,050 people have already said to them. Mr. Curtis stands to gain financially no matter the course of this project, as he continues to bill us for his time. He accused citizens of being against development and the water pipeline, when that is not true. The way forward is simple: Build the pumping station in an alternate location. It will cost more now, but that is the fault of the board. If they had done it right, they would not be in a bad spot now. Still the board voted to continue on the same destructive path. 

 The JRWA has not been a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. They have not demonstrated empathy or respect for others’ cultural heritage. It is literally the very least we can do, literally to do nothing, to not disturb Rassawek. This board does not represent me. It does not represent Louisa or Fluvanna counties. According to the 2018 U.S. Census, both counties are composed of over 50 percent women, yet there is no woman on the board. Where are the women?  For reasons stated above, I ask that each member of the JRWA board do one decent thing and resign, effective immediately. We will turn to our respective boards of supervisors and work with them to appoint a more representative, effective, and transparent JRWA board. 

Aleta Strickland


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