Rassawek, ancestral Monacan Indian capital at center of water pump plan, named to list of endangered sites

On September 24, the National Historic Trust announced that it had chosen the ancestral Monacan capital as one of the most endangered historic sites in the U.S.
Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 7:30 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, Va. (WVIR) - When looking at Point of Fork, the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers in Fluvanna County, two different groups see two very different things.

The James River Water Authority (JRWA) sees a potential site for a future water pump that will provide fresh water to Louisa and Fluvanna county for years to come. The Monacan Indian Nation sees the site of Rassawek, their historic capital, a site they say is endangered.

This week, the National Historic Trust agreed.

On September 24, the National Historic Trust announced that it had chosen the ancestral Monacan capital, as one of its “11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2020.” The Monacan Nation, through their representation Cultural Heritage Partners, says the designation just drives home how seriously people across Virginia and the country are taking the fight between the tribe and the JRWA.

“The tribe is gratified that people all across the country are really standing up for tribal rights, and valuing tribal history,” Cultural Heritage Partners Founding Partner Marion Werkheiser said. “We believe that it will help the Board of Supervisors and the water authority appreciate that people across the country are deeply concerned about this project.”

The project is currently under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), who are set to determine whether it is in the public’s best interest. In August, the water authority asked the USACE to pause reviewing that permit as they take a second look at alternative sites for the pump.

“If you’re trying to put water infrastructure, you need to make sure you’ve got the right amount of water. Make sure the water quality is right, even make sure you’ve got a path from point A to point B." AquaLaw Partner Justin Curtis, representing the JRWA, explained.

Those factors initially led the JRWA to select the Rassawek site. Now, they are exploring any and all possible other locations, but doing so against the clock.

“There is an urgent need for an increased water supply to Fluvanna and Louisa counties," Curtis said.

If the water authority decides that Point of Fork is the only option, the Monacan Nation hopes the USACE denies the permit.

“With this listing, and the 12,000 comments that they’ve already received opposing the project, there can be no doubt that building a pump station on Rassawek is not in the public interest,” Werkheiser said.

“We believe that if we can’t protect this spot, there’s no place in Virginia safe,” Monacan Indian Nation Chief Kenneth Branham added in a video statement.

The JRWA is set to meet again on October 14. It is unclear whether or not the authority will have made a decision on the pump plans at that point.

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