Harry S. Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” Those words probably resonate particularly with the District’s archaeologists, but they are also meaningful to the employees in the Regulatory Division.
As part of evaluating projects under the Clean Water Act, regulatory employees are charged with enforcing permit conditions related to requirements stipulated in the National Historic Preservation Act and other applicable federal laws pertaining to the protection of natural and cultural resources (e.g. the Endangered Species Act). This obligation is well placed, since regulators conduct site visits to proposed permit areas and are able to identify important resources that may be impacted as a result of a project.
Such was the case when a District regulator responded to a permit application in 2005 from Ute Lake Ranch, Inc. (ULRI), a private company proposing to build a housing development on the southeast side of Ute Lake in Quay County, N.M. (north of Tucumcari). As planned, the construction of roads within the project area involved a discharge of fill material into tributary arroyos of Ute Lake, which is a navigable water of the United States. As such, a Department of the Army permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act was required.
Prior to initiating the Corps permitting process, ULRI hired a cultural resource consultant to conduct an intensive pedestrian survey of the entire project area. This survey resulted in the identification of several significant historic properties, including an archaeological site that contained part of a Clovis point. These fluted-projectile points date to the Paleoindian period, which represents the earliest known human occupation of New Mexico (circa 10,000 B.C) and are named after the city of Clovis, N.M., where examples were first found in 1929.
These discoveries led to the development and subsequent signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Corps, the State Historic Preservation Officer and ULRI to minimize and mitigate adverse affects to historic properties from the proposed housing development. Subsequently, the stipulations outlined in the MOA became conditions of the Corps permit.
In 2008, and as a result of financial difficulties and other factors, ULRI halted the project. Not surprisingly, the archaeological and historical field and laboratory work being conducted under the MOA was also halted.
These factors, combined with the retirement and relocation of key personnel associated with the undertaking (e.g. the regulatory project manager and project archaeologist), led to the project file becoming stagnant for the next few years.
In 2011, and shortly after joining the Regulatory team, Project Manager and Archaeologist Chris Parrish, began looking into the current status of the project. After contacting ULRI, he conducted a site visit to the property in early 2012 and examined several of the historic properties identified in the MOA to assess their current condition, historical significance, and if there were any unauthorized impacts to the resources since 2008.
Next, Parrish notified ULRI that—despite the undetermined status of the Ute Lake Ranch housing development—they were still responsible for satisfying the stipulations of the MOA. ULRI stated that they were willing to work with the Corps to do so. So, Parrish contacted individuals at the State Historic Preservation Division, Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) and Blackwater Draw Museum to solicit input and request their participation in a meeting at the Ute Lake Ranch property to visit several of the historic properties and discuss options.
The group met at Ute Lake Ranch in October and talked about a Right-of-Entry Agreement between ULRI and ENMU/Blackwater Draw Museum that would allow professors and students access to the property for the purpose of performing research-directed archaeological and historical investigations for a period of 10 years. The cultural materials recovered and analyzed under this agreement would also become part of ENMU’s permanent collection. Furthermore, ULRI has agreed to donate all of the cultural materials and associated documentation and results of analyses performed under the MOA to ENMU.
Parrish said the details are still being worked out, but all parties involved are enthusiastic about the possibilities.
“This solution provides for a more significant contribution to the archaeological record then what would have occurred as a result of a long-term, and expensive, enforcement action against the applicant,” Parrish said. He added, “We’ll see where this goes, but it does look promising.”