Reader Tim M. send me this:
Last night, August 16th, the Town of North Smithfield Planning Board voted 3-2 to deny the applicant for Rankin Estates Development (in the Nipsachuck Swamp Area) to proceed with their Master Plan. Couple of main reasons for the denial: "While the applicant has adequately identified the natural features of the site, cultural features such as historic cemeteries, stone walls and other historic features have not been identified as required by the Regulations. For example, a stone foundation identified on the 2001 Phase I Master Plan in the area of the intersection of roadway A and roadway B is not shown on the current plan. The Constraint / Opportunity Map & Existing Condition Plan shows a number of rectangular shapes resembling structures in the vicinity of Rankin Brook. No attempt has been made to identify what these man-made features are, if they are significant, and how they fit into the development scheme."
"Whether or not the stone mounds found on the Rankin site and identified as North Smithfield Historic Cemetery # 52 and #53 are in fact burials, Native American ceremonial markers or are evidence of agrarian land clearing activities; there is no dispute that they are man-made historic cultural features that need to be located on the Master Plan as specified in Section A. Item 21 of the Master Plan Checklist. This checklist item requires that the applicant show, on all maps the location of “any unique natural and or historic features, including stone walls”. The checklist does not specify that only those features located in disturbed areas need to be identified, it states, “any” feature.
Based on this requirement of the checklist and the testimony of the Dr. Fredric F. Meli, PhD, Archaeologist and Doug Harris, Deputy Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at the August 2 meeting I recommend that the Board require the applicant complete the background research of the entire property on which the proposed development is to be located as proposed in the applicant's August 2 letter, and that the field investigations described in Item b. of the letter, be expanded to include the entire site.
Also, the Board should be aware of Rhode Island General Laws §28-18-1(5) that defines an “Historic Cemetery”:
“Historic Cemetery” means any tract of land which has been for more than one hundred (100) years used as a burial place, whether or not marked with an historic marker, including but not limited to, ancient burial places known or suspected to contain the remains of one or more American Indians.
Rhode Island General Laws §23-18-11.1 prohibits the alteration or removal of any “historic cemetery” except with a permit issued by the Town Council. The law places the responsibility of protection of historic cemeteries on the town. The law is silent on who determines whether the mounds are burial places. At this point it appears that the Board will have to at least make a preliminary determination as to whether the mounds viewed on the site are ancient Indian burials raising at least a suspicion that they contain the remains of American Indians. That determination is subject to further archeological study. But until a final report is issued the mounds should be protected as historic cemeteries pending further study and identification. Given the broad definition of “Historic Cemeteries” it clearly appears that the Legislature intends us to err on the side of treating the areas as cemeteries since otherwise the damage would be irreparable. Based on the testimony of Dr. Meli and Doug Harris the Town is on notice that there is at least a suspicion that these mounds could in fact be ancient burial sites
Let me know what your thoughts are on this. The developer's attorney has promised to take the town to court over this issue.