Monacans call for investigation of water authority

By Heather Michon

The Monacan Indian Nation is calling on the Fluvanna and Louisa Boards of Supervisors to begin a third-party, independent investigation into claims of mismanagement of the archaeological survey at Point of Fork.

Point of Fork, at the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers, is believed by many historians and archaeologists to be the site of Rassawek, the main Monacan settlement at the time of the English arrival in Virginia in 1603. It is also the proposed site of a multi-million-dollar joint venture between Fluvanna and Louisa to carry water into Zion Crossroads and other parts of Louisa–water vital to the continued economic growth of the area.

The Monacan tribe, now based in Amherst County, is critical of the location of the project, which they believe will disrupt tribal artifacts and, potentially, the remains of their ancestors. In 2019, they retained Cultural Heritage Partners, a law firm that frequently works with tribes on the protection of their material heritage.

Marion Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners wrote to chairs Mike Sheridan of Fluvanna and Toni Williams of Louisa on behalf of the Monacans to investigate whether the James River Water Authority (JRWA) used taxpayer dollars to pay for “illegal and unethical practices” by Circa Cultural Resource Management, an archaeological survey firm hired by Timmons Group.

In her three-page letter, Werkheiser highlighted several issues her firm helped bring to light in since the summer of 2019.

In September, Julie Langan of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) informed the JRWA that Carol Tyrer, owner of Circa Cultural Resource Management, did not meet the professional qualifications needed under Virginia law to conduct valid archaeological surveys. Langan denied the project a permit for the excavation of human remains. At the same time, William Walker of the Army Corps of Engineers indicated that, because of the invalidated survey, his department would have to reevaluate the project and require JRWA to apply for a more stringent permit.

Then, in October, a former Circa employee claimed that work conducted at the Point of Fork site was “illegal, unethical, and unscientific.”

700 hours

Along with the call for an independent investigation, Werkheiser also released a letter sent to the Army Corps of Engineers on Dec. 16 including a set of work orders on Faulconer Construction letterhead but signed by Carol Tyrer.

The work orders indicate that between Dec. 1, 2017 and Jan. 22, 2018, Tyrer signed off on over 700 hours of labor by Faulconer workers at the site. “The workers are clearly identified not as cultural resource field technicians, but as ‘laborer[s]’ and a ‘[backhoe] operator,’” said Werkheiser. On a dozen occasions, notations on work performed include references to digging and sifting.

In a sworn statement released in Oct. 2019, Eric Mai, a former field technician for Circa, described Tyrer “enlisting unoccupied construction workers” to perform archaeological work at Point of Fork, even though they had no training to do that type of sensitive work. The workers allegedly told Mai “they had no idea what they were looking for,” as they sifted the soil. He said he witnessed them using post-hole diggers and other heavy equipment that could damage artifacts and destroy ground features.

The work orders indicate Tyrer was on-site at these times, with two invoices noting no work was done “due to Carol not being presents.”

However, in his statement, Mai said Tyrer spent most of her time at the site doing paperwork in her car, and despite his attempts to supervise the Faulconer crew, he was often dispatched to work in other areas of the dig site. “There were many times when these construction crews were excavating and screening with no supervision whatsoever,” he alleged.

The work orders were in the records of the JRWA’s March 6, 2018 meeting. Werkheiser said in her letter that these documents “establish that JRWA itself knowingly authorized the payment of taxpayer dollars for this purposefully incompetent approach to testing.”

JRWA conflicted

In her letter to Sheridan and Williams, Werkheiser noted that it had been seven weeks since the JRWA issued a statement saying they took Mai’s allegations “very seriously” and would conduct a thorough review.

But on Nov. 11 they filed a petition in Fluvanna County Circuit Court to try to get a judge to compel the Commonwealth to accept Tyrer as a qualified consultant. They have also retained another company, GAI Consulting, to review Tyrer’s report on the Point of Fork dig.

“The time has come to acknowledge that JRWA is not in a creditable position to investigate Circa and Timmons,” she concluded, “because in doing so JRWA is conflicted by a desire to protect its plans to locate the water pump station in a place that would destroy Rassawek, and because of JRWA’s direct involvement and culpability.”

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