Chilmark spends $39,000 on Middle Line anthropology dig
Chilmark selectmen are unhappy with the $38,721 it has so far cost the town to conduct an archaeological survey of land for the Middle Line Road affordable housing project. They were doubly unhappy at the possibility that more survey work may be required.
At a special meeting March 20, selectmen reluctantly approved payment of $19,981 to the University of Massachusetts Archaeological Services (UMAS) for a phase two study of the site. That money was in addition to an earlier payment of $18,740 for a phase one study.
"There will not be a phase three from this guy," said Frank Fenner, Chilmark selectman, when asked about payment following the Thursday meeting.
Town officials expect to receive the UMAS phase two report by April 1. Yesterday, town officials received a preliminary phase two draft report from UMAS that indicated no further studies would be necessary.
If that is the case the town would be cleared to move forward with the project and not be asked to conduct a more intensive archaeological examination of two small lots that voters agreed to purchase at a cost of $500,000 at a special town meeting on March 3. The lots are intended to provide safer vehicle access to Middle Line Road from Tabor House Road. The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) made access a condition of approval of the project.
The phase one survey initially involved only the 21-acre parcel for the housing site. When selectmen reached agreement with the owners of the two lots, those properties were added to the scope of the phase one survey.
Based on their findings, UMAS then recommended more test holes be dug on the new lots. Mr. Fenner said that he reluctantly agreed to go along with the phase two examination in order to prevent the project from being stalled. He said the additional work would be understandable if there were evidence of an ancient burial site. But to date the surveys have mostly found chips of quartz, likely produced by stonework.
"I find it very frustrating," said Mr. Fenner, "because all we want to do is put a road across there."
The Middle Line Road project, six rental units and six houses, will be built on 21 acres of heavily wooded town-owned land located about a half mile down Middle Line Road, a dirt road that intersects with Tabor House Road just north of the town landfill.
After being notified of the project by the town, the Massachusetts Historical Commission recommended a survey, based on existing evidence of earlier Native American land use in the area.
In a letter to the town, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head also called for a survey, in order to determine what additional steps should be taken to identify, protect and preserve any significant Indian artifacts found in or near the site. Taking its cue from the Mass Historical Commission, the Martha's Vineyard Commission made the survey a condition of approval.
The town contracted with UMAS, a contract- and grant-funded public archaeology consulting service housed in the university's Department of Anthropology.
During the phase one survey, the UMAS team dug test pits of varying sizes and turned up a piece of stoneware and a few flakes of quartz.
Once the town reached an agreement to purchase two small lots on Tabor House Road. UMAS added the access road to the survey project, at a cost of $3,738, to cover the additional 12 to 16 test pits.
The initial survey of that site turned up "40 quartzite flakes from stone tool making, and a large quartz core (possibly also used at one time as a hammerstone)."
UMAS proposed that either the construction should be relocated or the town should conduct a more intensive phase two archaeological survey of what UMAS now identifies as the "New Middle Line Road Native American site" to determine if the site is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
If the current phase two study report determines that the site is not eligible, said UMAS in a proposal to the town dated March 11, then no further survey will be recommended.
After agreeing last week to pay $19,981 for the phase two survey, Chilmark selectmen, already frustrated by the slow pace of the permitting process, expressed irritation with the prospect of any more costly studies or delays. "All we are trying to do is give some families affordable housing in Chilmark, and it is unbelievable how difficult this is," said Mr. Fenner.
Selectman J.B. Riggs Parker, a former corporate lawyer who has reviewed many of the documents associated with the project, said the archaeologists and associated bureaucrats have a vested interest in these projects. He described the archaeological surveys as "pure speculative job making."
Mr. Parker expressed concern about the enormous costs of meeting regulatory requirements. "It is a sad situation when affordable housing projects are burdened by bureaucratic programs, which create work for themselves and end up making the affordable housing project possibly economically undoable," said Mr. Parker.
Warren Doty, chairman and point man for the housing initiative, said the selectmen agreed to do a phase two study of the roadway based on the recommendation of the Mass Historical Commission and in an effort to cooperate. "We are trying to be cooperative and do what it is that the different commissions think that we should do," he said, "and we are being held to a higher standard because we are a public entity than if we were a private individual."
Mr. Doty questioned why the discovery of stone chips, not unusual on Martha's Vineyard, should prove to be a costly hurdle. "One of our oystermen recently found a beautiful adze head beautifully worked in Tisbury Great Pond while oystering," he pointed out. "Well, we didn't ask everyone to stop oystering."
It has been more than three years since voters in September 2004 approved $45,000 to fund a feasibility study for the Middle Line Road housing project. To date, the town has spent $651,400 on the project and the state has kicked in $356,000. According to a recent town report, additional estimated costs of $508,900 will bring the total infrastructure costs to $1,516,300.
Echoing the frustrations of his fellow selectmen over the time and cost involved in pushing the project forward, Mr. Doty said, "We are just trying to take this project one step at a time and keep moving it along. It has become much more complicated than I ever dreamed possible, that is for sure."