Vital, TVA dispute gaining ground

Landowner scoffs at agency claims

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 5/19/19

The dispute over an archeological study conducted by the Tennessee Valley Authority regarding the presence of potential Native American artifacts at a Meigs County property is moving forward by an …

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Vital, TVA dispute gaining ground

Landowner scoffs at agency claims

Posted

The dispute over an archeological study conducted by the Tennessee Valley Authority regarding the presence of potential Native American artifacts at a Meigs County property is moving forward by an impacted landowner.

Greg A. Vital is pursuing legal action to thwart the federally owned corporation’s access to his land for a proposed transmission line project dubbed Project Viper.

According to a letter document obtained by the Cleveland Daily Banner, Phase I of the study was conducted by New South Associates, a cultural resource firm based in Stone Mountain, Ga.

After TVA's study was conducted, it identified the site as having “a single-stone pile." The claim is disputed by Vital, stating there are additional stone rock structures on his land that are referred to as cairns.

Cairns are described as structures that appear to be mounds of carefully placed slabs of limestone or some other form of sedimentary rock.

When he learned of the study's results, Vital was taken aback.

"I was stunned," Vital said. "For me, when I read that they found only one, it shook me to believe they would try to deceive everyone. It's astounding."

He said he is doubtful the archeologists hired by TVA were unable to find the 14 other cairns that dot his property.

"For TVA to claim there is only one is irresponsible and incomprehensible," Vital said.

The document, prepared by Vital's attorneys, has been forwarded toTVA. In the letter, Vital requests that "he be considered a consulting party," as well as that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation review the finding."

Vital is represented by Miller & Martin, PLLC in Chattanooga.

He is also requesting TVA further "evaluate the adverse effects on the historic properties involved in a [second] archeological evaluation."

According to the document prepared by Vital’s attorneys, “In analyzing the single-stone pile, New South recommended the site could be National Register of Historic Places-eligible on two bases."

First, New South recommended further study to determine if the site is eligible as “part of a sacred ceremonial stone landscape.” In addition, the company also recommended further archeological work be conducted at the site "to determine if the site is eligible under Criterion D "for its potential to contribute to significant information on the history or prehistory of the region."

Under Criterion D, "the special nature of burials, which are widely recognized in law and practice as having special qualities, may also possess a value to living groups that extends beyond the interests of archaeological research. Burial sites may be considered properties of traditional religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes or NHOs, which could make the site eligible for the National Register," according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

However, according to Vital’s attorneys, instead of conducting additional research, TVA “proposed  to reroute the transmission line."

In addition, Vital’s attorneys contend TVA “failed to further investigate the site and did not identify the additional 14 stone cairns.

Another study, conducted by Lawrence S. Alexander of Alexander Archeological Consultants, Inc., 14 additional stone cairns were identified that were "similar in appearance and measure to the original cairn identified by TVA," according to the letter sent to TVA by Vital's attorneys.

Alexander was hired by Vital's attorneys to conduct the study.

A historical consultant, Dr. Troy Smith, a professor of Native American history at Tennessee Technological University, was also hired. In his report, Smith also identified 15 cairns that “conformed to what [he knows] about ceremonial landscapes and their directional alignment,” according to Vital’s attorneys.

As a result, Vital claims TVA ‘erred in failing to fully identify” items at the site, as well as erred in finding the site “would not be adversely impacted by the proposed undertaking.”

Vital also claims TVA "gave little consideration to the portions of the Trail of Tears that runs "through his property," stating that it is "difficult to explain TVA's" lack of consideration regarding the significance of the site.

The legal wrangling began late last year when TVA announced it was planning to construct a $26 million new transmission line that would begin at its Sequoyah Nuclear plant and extend northwest about 5.25 miles to the proposed Gunstocker Creek station, which would be located at the intersections of Highways 58 and 60 in Meigs County.

The line will also run through portions of Bradley and Hamilton counties, connecting to the planned systems’ control facility. 

About 4.25 miles of existing line would be torn down and replaced with double-circuit poles. The transmission line project is projected to be complete by 2021.

In addition, the project would relocate TVA's downtown Chattanooga operations center to a 185,000-square-foot systems control facility located on 167 acres near Georgetown and Gunstocker Creek. It is projected to be completed and running by 2023. 

During a court hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga in January, Federal Court Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice denied a motion by the property owners to set aside a Nov. 30 order that allowed  TVA immediate access to their properties for the construction of the transmission line.

Malinda Hunter, TVA spokesperson, said during initial environmental field reviews,  a cultural resource was identified within the proposed transmission line route. She did not address the studies listed in the letter sent to TVA.

"The route was adjusted to avoid the resource and additional environmental field review completed," Hunter said. "TVA has been, and is continuing to work, through the NEPA and National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process including required consultation with consulting parties including the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and Federally recognized Tribes."

Vital said TVA must make a decision regarding the recent findings on his property.

"It's time for them to move off the property or to have a Phase II archeological study," Vital said. "It's time they do something before they destroy the Native American culture that is there."

For a previous story regarding the cultural resources located at the Vital property, visit http://clevelandbanner.com/stories/vital-to-tva-slow-down,97093.


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