Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, July 01, 2005

Raiders of the Lost Cemetery

The following appeared in The Daily Evergreen on June 6:

...Matthew Root, president of Rain Shadow Research Inc., said Wal-Mart failed to mention the cemetery in their State Environmental Policy Act application.

Root said the SEPA requires certain environmental factors to be considered when developing, and SEPA has an environmental checklist for businesses to follow.

Section 13b of the WAC 197-11-960 Environmental checklist, titled, “Historic and cultural preservation,” states, “Generally describe any landmarks or evidence of historic, archaeological, scientific or cultural importance known to be on or next to the site.”

Root said he noticed under this section Wal-Mart’s application read something to the effect of ‘none known,’ and he wanted to make the city aware this might be an error on the application.

“Pullman City Cemetery is an important cultural resource, and it’s important to make people aware that Wal-Mart’s development may adversely affect this cultural site,” he said, “In my judgment, it seems that Wal-Mart has not considered cultural and historic preservation, but I do not know what their future plans are.”

T.V. Reed, Director of PARD, said this is not a PARD issue yet, and the group is waiting for a decision from the city...
Obviously, PARD has taken a stand on the cemetery, judging from the shrill and hysterical letters to the editor appearing in the Daily News about the cemetery, the latest comparing city officials to former U.S. Senator Joseph "Tail Gunner Joe" McCarthy for "violating a promise that the city cemetery would never be disturbed."

From early on, PARD has spread the rumor that Wal-Mart would cut down some trees surrounding the cemetery to build an access road. That rumor is ABSOLUTELY FALSE.

This is a typical anti-Wal-Mart tactic. Vermont, at one time, was the only state without a Wal-Mart. So once Wal-Mart started making inroads, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the WHOLE STATE OF VERMONT as one of its 11 Most Endangered Historical Places in 2004.

When a letter to the editor took PARD to task for shamelessly using the cemetery as an argument against Wal-Mart, Matthew Root responded in a letter published June 21 as follows:

...I am not a professor, a student, or a member of Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development (ed. Dr. Root modestly neglected to say that he obtained his Ph.D. in Anthropology from WSU in 1992.) I am a concerned, 19-year resident of Pullman. I wrote letters to the city of Pullman concerning the Pullman City - AOUW Cemetery and the possible effects of Wal-Mart's planned construction.

The cemetery once extended 400 feet north of its present location when it was established in the late 1800s. The marked boundaries of early cemeteries were often moved inward over time, leaving unmarked graves outside of the modern cemetery. Furthermore, it was common for Indians, other non-Euro-Americans and paupers to be buried just outside of marked cemeteries.

As I wrote the city, if Wal-Mart disturbs the ground just north of the present cemetery, they may disturb the unmarked graves of some of Pullman's earliest citizens. Wal-Mart is required by state law to consider the effects of its development on any places of archaeological or cultural importance that are on or adjacent to its development. It is also a violation of state law to disturb a cemetery. whether it is marked or not.

It is my opinion as a historic preservation professional that the cemetery has local importance. I simply requested the city and Wal-Mart follow existing laws and conduct the proper studies to determine whether a historic site and unmarked cemetery would be affected by Wal-Mart's construction...
Ahhh, the famous "lost cemetery." City Public Works Director Mark Workman didn't seem too impressed in the Daily News:
Workman said he isn't convinced there is a problem with the cemetery boundary.

"There's an old map that has some conflicting information on it, but that's speculative," Workman said.
I was intrigued. What exactly did Dr. Root and Rain Shadow Research do? They are listed with the State of Washington's Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation as archaeological consultants , along with about 43 other individuals/firms across the state. Cool! I used to think only Indiana Jones could make a living from archaeology outside of a university. But once I started looking at the ridiculously complex and politically correct State Environmental Policy Act requirements, I began to see why someone might need to hire an archaeologist.

It was also fascinating to note that there were no less than FOUR archaeological consultants in Pullman, including Dr. Root.

Could it be that Dr. Root's real issue with Wal-Mart is that the city didn't hire him as a consultant for the "historic and cultural preservation" part of the SEPA checklist? Could it be that PARD then seized on Dr. Root's discontent as yet another issue to throw against the wall and see if it sticks? Draw you own conclusions.

In any case, Wal-Mart has agreed to hire a consultant to conduct an underground sonar scan survey of the proposed site and address any questions concerning the "lost cemetery's" boundary. I'm pretty sure Dr. Root won't be getting that contract either.

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