State

Company: Work on landmark site was approved by MDAH

A company doing work near a Mississippi landmark archaeological site says it received approval from Mississippi Department of Archives and History before doing work on a piece of county-owned land that may be connected to the birthplace of slavery in the region.

Cooperative Energy sent a letter on Jan. 4 to The Natchez Democrat saying that it had done its due diligence before proceeding with work on a switching station on the former International Paper property. The work is being done in connection with the construction of a nearby power substation near St. Catherine Creek and Lower Woodville Road.

Cooperative also is doing work on transmission lines to the switching station. The transmission lines are on an existing easement.

Part of the site near the proposed switching station has been identified as a Mississippi landmark possibly associated with a 1720s French settlement known as the Terre Blanc.

Jessica Crawford, a regional director of The Archaeological Conservancy, previously expressed concerns that work associated with the construction was endangering historical artifacts connected with archaeological artifacts.

“It is part of a plantation where the first African slaves were brought to the region,” Crawford said. “It is a really important French Colonial site.”

Crawford and the Archaeological Conservancy have expressed interest in buying the piece of property as a way to protect any remaining artifacts on the property.

Cooperative Energy Sr. Vice President-Communications Christa Bishop said the company goes through “a lengthy process to ensure that we do our best to protect the environments in which we work.”

“The Cooperative has a history of respect for Mississippi’s cultural resources and finds it of utmost importance to protect them,” Bishop said.

The company followed strict procedures with the construction of the switching station, Bishop said. The company notified Mississippi Department of Archives and History about the project, contracted an archaeologist to do a cultural resources survey and received approval from MDAH to proceed with the work.

MDAH Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Woodrick confirmed that Cooperative did their due diligence and received approval to proceed with the work.

“We provided approval on the condition there would be no effect on the site (of archaeological significance),” Woodrick said. “As long as they stayed where the current power lines were located.”

In her letter, Bishop said the site was already under 6 to 10 feet of dirt International Paper used as fill on the site, “making it unlikely that the Cooperative work would cause disturbance.”

Woodrick said he understood that the site where the Cooperative was building the switching station was built on fill, but that the land in question — where artifacts from Terre Blanc may exist — was not under 6 to 10 feet of fill.

“The fill area is immediately south of the area of the site of archaeological significance,” Woodrick said.

Bishop also said that Cooperative is using the path of the existing transmission line and that the company did not disturb the soil or “root structures” on the property as directed by MDAH.

“We did not grub the site,” Bishop said.

Previously Natchez Inc. Director Chandler Russ said that workers had cleared and grubbed the site, but later said he did not mean to suggest that any of the work disturbed the soil or pulled up roots.

Such discrepancies are why visiting the site to see the work is important, Woodrick said.

“This is the reason why we need to come to the site,” Woodrick said.

While he has not pinpointed an exact date, Woodrick said he plans to come to Natchez early this month to visit the site.

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