By Kellie Patrick Gates
The federal agency charged with protecting the nation’s historic resources wants SugarHouse to keep looking for the remains of a Revolutionary War fort that once sat on the proposed casino site.
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation made this and other recommendations in a letter to the Philadelphia division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is conducting a historic review of the Delaware Avenue site, which is required before the Corps can decide whether to grant SugarHouse a permit it needs to build into the river. The recently Corps asked the Council for its help on that matter.
The Advisory Council’s letter, dated June 25, states that the Corps has done a good job of conducting the historical review so far, and praised its inclusion of a large number of consulting parties – interested people who asked to advise the Corps on the process. In fact, the recommendations made by the Council were largely based on the concerns of those consulting parties, which in this case include archaeologists, historians, community activists and others.
“The consulting parties are in agreement that additional investigations need to be carried out to determine if any remains of British Redoubt No. 1 still exist within the permit area, and what condition they may be in today given the extent of ground disturbance since the 18th century,” Charlene Dwin Vaughn, assistant director in the Council’s Federal Permitting, Licensing, and Assistance Section, wrote to Frank Cianfrani, chief of the Corps’ Philadelphia District regulatory branch.
“We believe this is an appropriate step to take in order to determine the presence of remains, and, if extant, whether they retain sufficient integrity to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.”
Other recommendations made by the Council:
— More research should be done to find the historic shoreline, as that could help the Corps determine “whether historic properties exist in the area that may be adversely affected by new construction.”
— Pennsylvania’s historic preservation organization – through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission – has already said that the Native American component of the site – multitudes of pre-contact artifacts have been found – qualify it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The Council recommends the Corps talk with two of its consulting parties – the Delaware Nation and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Mohican Nation, to determine whether the site could be eligible due to religious or cultural significance to the tribes.
— The Philadelphia District Corps office should request assistance from a Corps archaeologist, since “the Philadelphia District does not currently have a professional archaeologist on its staff, and the controversial preservation issues in this case are archaeological in nature.”
The Corps is following the Council’s recommendations, said Philadelphia District spokesman Khaalid Walls. “We have reached out to another Corps district in Texas to see if they could assist us and provide technical advice,” Walls said. Documents related to the case are now being sent to an archaeologist in that office, he said.
But Walls said that some components of the Council’s requests may change after officials there have had a chance to read the results of some supplemental archaeological digging that SugarHouse archaeology consultant A.D. Marble did in May. The digging was done in response to the concerns of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission – concerns the Council’s letter cites as part of its reasoning for more investigation. The Corps just received the latest archaeological report Wednesday – after it received the letter from the Council, Walls said. The report has since been sent to the Council. (PlanPhilly has requested a copy as well.) The recently completed report might address at least some of the Advisory Council’s concerns.
Consulting Party John Connors – director of the on-line Penn Treaty Museum – said he was pleased by the Council’s recommendations.
“I was encouraged. I think everything is moving in the right direction,” Connors said. He was glad that the Corps sought the advice of the Council, and also that the Council seemed to take the recommendations of the consulting parties very seriously.
Consulting Party Douglas Mooney, who is president of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum, is also largely pleased with the Advisory Council’s suggestions.
He was a bit disappointed that the Council is not taking a more active role – coming to Philadelphia to both see the site and examine the Army Corps’ process in person – but so long as the Corps gets a good archaeologists’ guidance, he and the Forum will be satisifed, he said.
SugarHouse Casino spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker could not be reached for comment, but has consistently said that the casino will do whatever the Army Corps requires.
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