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Shinnecocks Press Town on Grave Protection

Map key to legislation.

Members of the want to see their ancestors’ graves protected against homebuilders and excavators, but were told by the Southampton Town Board this month that they first need to provide a map pinpointing sensitive areas.

The map, a project spearheaded by community activist , would highlight parts of town where remains are likely to have been buried and would be available for builders to consult before starting a project. Areas identified as sensitive would be subject to heightened environmental review, according to a town board resolution passed in 2010.

“There is a level of support but it’s a difficult piece of legislation to enact without a map,” said town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst during a Dec. 9 work session.

Votino-Tarrant did not return requests for comment on the map, a project she has been working on for at least a year. To set a deadline for the map and potentially move forward on protecting the graves, Throne-Holst said that she would reach out to Votino-Tarrant, who is a member of the town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board.

The tribe has been rallying for legislation protecting graves since 2003, when a mass burial site was unearthed on Shelter Island, said Rebecca Genia, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s archeological advisory committee. The issue came up again in 2006, when more bones were found on property along Montauk Highway in Water Mill, she said.

In January 2010 the town board adopted a resolution that requires that areas where human remains are likely to be interred — as identified by the map — receive heightened levels of State Environmental Quality Review Act review. The map has to be adopted by the town board for the legislation to take effect, according to the text of the resolution.

“The developers have been raping this land,” Genia said during the work session. “We haven’t said a whole lot; we’ve let the powers that be, be.”

She added that “life didn’t begin in 1640,” the year English settlers founded Southampton.

“Nothing is sacred anymore, just the almighty dollar,” Genia said.

Payment Dispute

The map’s completion could be the least of the town’s worries, after Shinnecock representatives brought up a payment dispute at the meeting, their first before the board since 2010. Genia told the town board that Flanders archeologist Jo-Ann McLean has boxes of Shinnecock artifacts she will not return until she is paid for her services.

It is unclear how much McLean is owed for her work, completed on Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Genia said McLean was contracted for a total of $120,000 worth of work in 2005.

Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato advised the town board not to comment on the dispute during public session. The town and McLean are not in a payment dispute because there was never a contractual agreement, said Throne-Holst’s assistant, Jen Garvey, in an email.

jordan gumbs December 31, 2011 at 11:27 PM
The town continues to frustrate real protection by not paying for any map or archeological analysis of artifacts. No problem, however, giving millions to the former landowner where the remains were uncovered in 2006. it looks as if the town supervisor is making an example of punishing Mclean for her professional ethics by choosing to not honor the contract performed for the former landowner - when the town, in turn, became the successor landowner. Likewise it offers the Shinnecocks no help in creating a map of areas to be protected. Shame!!! One imagines if Mclean had not professionally searched the property and not immediately come forward with her find then she would have been paid. Who paid her employees and her overhead and expenses? I had expected better of this supervisor. Wait til next election.
Anthony Ernst January 01, 2012 at 03:10 PM
this article fails to mention that language for a new town law outlining what should happen when a contractor un-earths what appear to be human remains was submitted by attorney for the Shinnecocks George Stankevitch several years ago... a previous Town Board was looking at adopting such a law. There is no New York State law regarding this...but 46 other states have such a law. There are many grave sites of both native american and colonial era european people spread throughout the Town. Although certain areas are more likely to contain these graves, a map could never include all the potential places. The essential need is to pass a law that protects all the graves - not just some shown on a map. Meanwhile over development has forever destroyed both gravesites and the land they reside on and this will continue until the entire land is converted to real estate.

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