The question of Rassawek’s fate ends the year — the decade — with a pair of actions that raise the stakes.
The fundamental question: Will Rassawek, considered the historic site of the Monacan headquarters, be preserved; or will it be used for a planned water intake and pump station that will help supply water from the James River to the Zion Crossroads development area of Louisa and Fluvanna counties?
One of those actions is over a point of law, the other is more far-reaching: The Monacans say that an independent investigation is needed to determine if the permitting process for the project has been fairly pursued. And they have a point.
We’ve said it before: If the site can be saved, it should be saved.
Rassawek — rechristened Point of Forks on modern maps — is the most important site for the Monacan tribe. Artifacts have been found there; its supporters believe protecting the site could save traces of the historic town and any graves the area might contain.
And haven’t we reached a more enlightened level in our understanding in which we believe that minority history should be recognized — not just the accomplishments of the great and powerful?
But the preservation effort comes a little late. A spokeswoman for the tribe has said that they did not want to tip their hand too soon, revealing the location of Rassawek to relic hunters and endangering existing remains, until they had exhausted all other options. That now leaves little time to preserve the site.
Plans for the water project have been in the works for more than two decades. Originally, it was to have served Louisa County only, but Louisa and Fluvanna agreed to cooperate and in 2009 formed the James River Water Authority to serve both jurisdictions. We can understand why they might feel blindsided by the launch of an historic-preservation claim at this stage of the proceedings.
When The Daily Progress last addressed the dispute in this space, we noted that the JRWA was at odds with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources over the department’s handling of the JRWA’s request for a permit necessary to proceed with its project.
The permit dealt with the important matter of identifying and removing any human remains the JRWA might find at Point of Forks. The Monacans and their attorney, concurrently, were arguing that such permits often fail to respectfully preserve historic remains.
The authority soon accused the DHR of wrongly denying the permit. The department replied that it wasn’t denying the permit outright, but rather simply asking for a revised application. The problem, according to the authority: At least one person assigned by a consulting group hired by the JRWA wasn’t, in fact, qualified to make recommendations about preserving human remains.
The JRWA objected to that conclusion.
And then a whistleblower claimed that the consulting firm knew that its employee was unqualified — adding a whole new level of controversy and legal risk to the dispute.
The JRWA said it would investigate. That was more than two months ago.
More recently, the authority has formally filed an appeal seeking to overturn what it sees as the DHR’s rejection of its permit.
And in a letter, the Monacans and their attorney have challenged both Louisa and Fluvanna counties to launch an independent investigation into claims that the permitting process was swayed by an unqualified consultant. The letter even goes so far as to allege that the JRWA, and not just the consulting firm alone, knew of the consultant’s inadequacies.
Many of these allegations have yet to be proved. The DHR had flagged the consulting employee’s lack of qualifications, but we are aware of no evidence that either the consulting firm or the JRWA knowingly using unqualified personnel.
However, that is irrelevant to a deeper issue.
The authority indeed should conduct an internal review of its own actions and investigate its employment of the consultant — as should any entity caught in such a controversy. But it is not in a position to rule objectively on the results of that investigation.
It faces a conflict of interest: Its own aims in pushing the water project forward rely on the consultant being up to standards. Otherwise, the project may be delayed or derailed.
An independent investigation, by those without a vested interest, is necessary. Without such impartiality, results of any investigation are likely to be adjudged as tainted and unacceptable.