By Kellie Patrick Gates
The Army Corps of Engineers has called a second meeting with a group of community activists, historians, environmentalists and archaeologists who are advisors to the Corps on historical preservation at the SugarHouse Casino site.
The on-going historical review is required under federal law because SugarHouse needs a federal permit from the Corps. The interaction between the advisory group – called consulting parties, and the Corps and SugarHouse have mostly taken place through email. And things have been contentious at times.
Some consulting parties have been unhappy with the review of the site, which was once home to much Native American activity and a British Revolutionary War fort. They have criticized both the work of SugarHouse archaeologist, A.D. Marble, and the Corps’ oversight of the process. They have been calling for meetings for months.
Consulting party and Philadelphia Archaeological Forum President Doug Mooney said his organization was “very pleased” to have the meeting, scheduled for Oct. 29, but it was too little, too late.
“We feel that meetings of this sort should have been occurring regularly throughout the Section 106 review process. Had such regular meetings taken place, we believe that a great deal of the confusion now evident in the process could have been avoided, and consensus could have been reached that would have allowed the archaeological investigations to move forward more smoothly,” he wrote in an email.
But the Corps and SugarHouse have also found the process trying.
Some of the consulting parties, including Mooney and local preservationist and historian Torben Jenk, have sent email after email for months, outlining what they see as breaches of judgment, lack of professional qualifications, or bad practices during the process.
According to the email sent to the consulting parties last week by Jim Boyer, the biologist with the Corps’ regulatory branch who is leading the review, some of the consulting party emails have contained “personal attacks”. From now on, any consulting party who makes such an attack might be “dis-invited” from the list of consulting parties, he said.
Jenk wrote an email to Boyer, in which he referred to a comment made by Terry McKenna, project executive for SugarHouse’s general contractor: “As to personal attacks, I presume you mean Terrence McKenna’s ‘Enough of the history lesson!’ which he blurted to cut me off at the first Consulting Party meeting.”
According to Boyer’s email, The Corps has decided to reconvene the consulting parties because some of them “have continued to raise questions about our findings, including whether any remains or artifacts from the British redoubt may be present on the site” and continue to disagree with the investigation and conclusions reached by SugarHouse’s archaeology consultant, A.D. Marble.
Boyer’s email said the focus on the Fort shifts attention from the Corps’ mission under the law. “Only historic properties (that means physical items, Corps spokesman Ed Voight explained) are eligible for consideration under Section 106 of this law,” Boyer wrote. “For example, no remains, or even artifacts, from the redoubt have been recovered anywhere on the site. We have not seen any evidence that any historic properties exist where the redoubt was located.”
Boyer outlines three goals for the meeting: Summing up the responsibilities of the Corps outlined in the National Historic and Preservation Act. Reviewing the archaeological and geomorphological evidence from the areas near the former British Fort. Allowing the consulting parties to ask questions and give comments.
He also set some ground rules:
“Please note that we expect this meeting to be an open exchange of information. However, we will not re-visit past actions, and we will not get into anything about the proposed development. Further, we expect that this exchange will be conducted in a professional and courteous manner, without personal attacks. If anyone becomes disruptive and interferes with the conduct of the meeting by making such attacks, they may be asked to leave, or we may end the meeting early.”
Mooney said that the PAF – which he represents as a consulting party – hopes the discussion “will not be not be limited in any way. The consulting parties have brought up a great many questions and concerns over the course of this project, and we believe that very few of them have been adequately addressed in the past. Therefore we hope that any and all discussions will be up for consideration, and that any discussions held will allow for full consideration of the various viewpoints expressed. ”
SugarHouse representatives will be at the meeting and “open to answering questions and addressing people’s concerns,” said spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker. Whitaker said SugarHouse will continue to comply with any instructions from the Corps.
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