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PROVIDENCE—The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) continued its decision on October 22 regarding the future development of a neighborhood on the Native American site behind Salt Pond Plaza in Narragansett. . The developer, Downing/Salt Pond Partners, has been attempting to complete their 67-acre housing project behind Salt Pond Plaza since 1992 and subsequently encountered delays when the archaeological site, dated to the 1300s, was discovered.
The heart of the argument revolves around the definition and scope of potential archaeological assessments which would need to be conducted if any material was found during Downing/Salt Pond Partners’ construction work.
“All the attorneys presented their arguments, and none of it was new stuff,” said Laura Dwyer, Public Information Officer at CRMC. “[The Council] continued it for 30 days.”
“The council said, if the parties can come to an agreement, let’s outline the process for when [an artifact is found] and then come back,” she added. “The council directed the parties to look at that item and get a clear idea about the process, and hopefully that will resolve the issue.”
CRMC has held a number of sub-committee meetings with attorneys representing Downing/Salt Pond Partners, The Narragansett Indian Tribe and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office. CRMC and legal representatives met in July after a letter was received from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM), imploring CRMC to reconsider its position to allow construction at portions of the Native American site.
“OCRM respectfully requests that the CRMC not adopt the subcommittee’s recommendation at this time due to the potential irretrievable loss of important Tribal cultural and historic resources,” read the letter signed by OCRM Acting Director Donna Wieting in April.“OCRM believes it would be prudent at this time for CRMC to accept the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission’s (RIHPHC’s) recommendation stating the need for a completion of a Phase III archaeological recovery plan…prior to new construction.”
A memorandum prepared by the Attorney General’s office further highlighted OCRM’s practical concerns regarding CRMC’s stipulation of last June that if any archaeological material were to be found during construction, an archaeological recovery plan should be then implemented and work stopped.
“For example, the use of heavy equipment (bulldozers, etc.) at a site of known cultural and historic properties may not be consistent with standard archaeological practices,” read the letter. “It is also possible that construction workers using heavy equipment may not be able to detect archaeological resources and what is a ‘significant’ archaeological resource may be different to a lay-person versus a trained archaeologist.”
“Moreover, the applicant, Downing/Salt Pond Partners, may be investing irretrievable funds for construction activities and would then have to stop if archaeological resources are discovered,” it continued.
At the July meeting, attorneys for all sides spoke their opposition or favor for the potential continuation of construction. Although RIHPHC has pushed for a full archaeological site analysis, CRMC’s recommendation of last June was that it would delay construction efforts further.
“[CRMC] has dealt with every one of these issues, not once but twice, and considered Phase three twice, and decided that you never meant a report for the whole site,” said William R. Landry, attorney for Downing/Salt Pond Partners. “What were we doing here for two years if someone can be asked to write a letter from Washington filled with inaccuracies and to say, ‘gee, we have to change our minds now because of this letter.’”
Attorneys Gregory S. Schultz and John F. Killoy, Jr., representatives for the Attorney General’s office and RIHPHC respectively, conversely urged the Sub-Committee to reconsider their recommendation in light of OCRM’s concerns.
“This letter was not available prior to the hearing on this matter, and [coming] from a federal agency, OCRM’s response to the unsigned recommended decision is able to help the deciding of this issue,” said Schultz. “In speaking with Ed Sanderson, Executive Director of RIHPHC, he believes that there could be a process where there could be something less than a full Phase three that would enable the project to go forward, but still with enough oversight to ensure that archaeological artifacts and sites are protected.”
The next CRMC meeting will be held on December 11 in Providence.