The path to powering a new $300 million power control center in Meigs County may have to be rerouted because of culturally significant artifacts there from the past.
Archaeologists hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority found a turtle-shaped mound of rocks that experts say could be a Native American burial site and a culturally significant artifact that could preclude TVA from installing a proposed transmission line on property. TVA is seeking a right-of-way path to extend power lines to the 157-acre site TVA bought two years ago to build its new power control center.
After discovering the possible artifact, TVA proposed moving the power line path a few hundred feet away.
But Georgetown landowner Greg Vital, concerned about other such artifacts in the area, hired his own archaeologist firm which discovered 14 other potentially historic and protected rock mounds in the area, including a half dozen along the proposed new route.
"TVA found this first one and now we've identified a major discovery of some nature related to a cultural resource in this area and obviously more research needs to be done," Vital said Wednesday. "I shared what we found with TVA and we now need to work together to find out what has been discovered by TVA and, working with the tribes, make sure we protect these sites and find an alternative route for the transmission line, if required."
New South Associates, a Stone Mountain, Georgia-based archeological consulting company hired by TVA to review the route where TVA is proposing to extend a 161,000-volt transmission line to the proposed new power control center, said it found a circular stone pile along the route that was similar to stone piles associated with marked burial remains for Native Americans centuries ago.
"Stone piles do have the ability to yield important information on the past," said Shawn Patch, project manager for the site review by New South Associates. "It is recommended that the site be avoided."
Vital said hired Lawrence Alexander of Alexander Archeological Consultants Inc., to review TVA's proposed rerouted path and the area where TVA cleared a path for a possible new transmission line route. Alexander said he found many other similar stone piles that could be cultural significant artifacts.
The structures, sometimes referred to as cairns, appear to be mounds of carefully placed slabs of limestone or some other type of sedimentary rock. There are several that dot the side of the ridge overlooking a nearby stream.
"I was somewhat surprised that (TVA's consultants) only identified one (rock mound) when it's clearly visible that there are many more in this area," Vital said.
Vital said he is not opposed to TVA building a new power control center in southern Meigs County where TVA says it can better protect its power operations from potential terrorist or other attacks. The power control center is now located in the basement of TVA's Chattanooga Office Complex downtown where TVA controls and dispatches electricity across its 7-state region.
To power the new facility planned near Georgetown, TVA is proposing to erect double-circuit steel poles on 4.25 miles of an existing 100-foot-wide right of way and another mile of lines on new 100- to 150-foot-wide right-of-ways on property owned by Vital and three other nearby landowners.
Vital, the president of Morning Pointe Senior Living who owns a buffalo farm and other property in the area, said he is not opposed to TVA making improvements required for security and power delivery. But he has urged TVA to be more transparent about its plans and to work more with neighbors on the infrastructure needs for the new facility, where at least 175 TVA employees will work once the power control center is built and active by 2023.
TVA spokesman Malinda Hunter said Vital has relayed information about potential artifacts to TVA, which is now reviewing the findings. The draft environmental assessment study of the site is still being prepared and once it is released, probably this summer, Hunter said the public will have at least a 30-day comment period on its findings.
"The initial review identified something that was a potential cultural resource and after consulting with the tribes on that we decided to avoid that location (and rerouted the proposed transmission line elsewhere)," Hunter said. "The secondary route we proposed did not have anything that we found in our initial phase 1 survey and we shared that information with Mr. Vital. He shared some additional information, which we are reviewing with him now."
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340