The site of Rassawek, important to the Monacan Nation, is proposed to be destroyed by a pump station built by the James River Water Authority for Fluvanna and Louisa counties.
Up to now, the Monacans’ plight has been largely invisible. Now they’re asking for help from the public and from the governor.
Fortunately, the siting of the pump station requires environmental and historic review under federal law, including by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has some jurisdiction in this case. The National Environmental Policy Act requires that all alternatives and all environmental impacts for each alternative be considered. Since the authority decided in advance to purchase the site, the current study is unlikely to be a serious review of the alternatives and the environmental consequences, including historic preservation.
Unless the authority board changes its mind, the only way to negate a decision — assuming the Corps of Engineers makes a final decision in favor of the current site — is to challenge the permit in court.
In addition to the Monacans and other citizens who might have “legal standing” to bring such a suit, the governor of the state where the action occurs has the authority to demand a second look. In this case, Gov. Ralph Northam could decide to object to any permit issuance for a pump station located in Rassawek, an area where native artifacts, including human remains, are buried. This would require the Corps at a minimum to take another look at alternatives and the environmental impacts, including impacts on archeology, historic resources and human communities.
In this case, no one appears to be questioning the need for the project, only the location of the intake pump at Rassawek.
Now that the nation has reached out to the public on this issue, I urge others to ask that the governor intervene to save the Rassawek site and also to write to the Corps of Engineers in Norfolk and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
This historic site could be reserved for future generations as a natural area where the Monacans with the help of the state could conduct appropriate archeological study to help us learn more about our history.
If this is done and Rassawek saved, future generations will recognize this moment as a turning point in acknowledging all our history.