Categorized | Government, Page 1

Town Waits on Native American Graves Map

Posted on 26 December 2009

Riding on the coat tails of a preliminary approval for federal recognition, the Shinnecock Nation received another bit of good news from the Southampton Town Board this Tuesday. The board accepted the boundaries outlined by the Southampton Cemetery Study which identifies the location of known Native American grave sites on privately and publicly owned properties as a way to increase cultural resource protection.

In conjunction with this study, a subcommittee of the town’s Historic Districts and Landmarks Review Board is creating a cultural resources inventory map, listing all of the known graves and suspected Native American and Colonial grave sites in the town. The subcommittee is compiling historic documentation and oral histories from members of the Shinnecock Nation to help in this process. However, the map still needs to be formalized and transferred into digital form with the help of the town’s Geographic Information Systems Department.

In a last act as town supervisor, Linda Kabot proposed a code amendment on Tuesday to identify areas cited in the cemetery study and cultural resources inventory map as “critical areas of environmental concern.”

Based on the proposed amendment, building projects in these areas would require an archaeological study. Assistant town attorney Joseph Burke said the archaeological study would be submitted as part of the review process. This law was slightly preemptive as the inventory map is yet to be completed. The law proposed on Tuesday reads that the map “may be adopted and amended from time to time by resolution of the Town Board.” The planning board would have to comply with the heightened review in certain areas once the map is finished.

Town attorney Dan Adams stressed that this amendment is a living document and could be changed at any point in the future. Councilman Chris Nuzzi, though seemingly supportive of the intent of the law, was at issue with signing off on the amendment before the inventory is completed.

“One of the requests I had made [at a previous work session] was to hold a subsequent work session on the finalized map prior to adopting it so we could talk about which properties will be impacted,” remarked Nuzzi. “My questions have nothing to do with the intent of the map. It is something that I will support, but my intent then was to get a little more information on the table. This should be held off until we have that work session to identify the areas looked at by the landmarks board … just to have an informational hearing so that we are all a little better informed and then this may go forward.”

“Perhaps we don’t need the law because we don’t have the map yet, but passing this law will provide encouragement that we can,” argued councilwoman Sally Pope. “This is the kind of encouragement I would like to give [the Landmarks Board] in completing the map.”

Councilwoman and supervisor-elect Anna Throne-Holst seemed to be on board with moving the amendment forward and asked the town’s legal council if there was a way to assure that the board would review the finalized inventory map at a work session. Burke suggested the board tweak the language of the law from stating that the map “may be adopted” by the board to “shall be adopted,” with Kabot adding that it should be finalized in 2010.

This recommendation was welcomed by landmarks board member Lisa Votino-Tarrant, who is part of the subcommittee crafting the inventory map, but added she hopes the board follows through with adopting the final map in the new year.

“Sally hit it right on the head. What this [law] is going to do is give the encouragement of saying that this is something the board is interested in,” noted Votino-Tarrant. “I have put hours and hours of research into something that may not come about. These are all volunteer hours that might go down the drain.”

“I am fine with putting ‘shall’ in the clause,” she added. “I want the board to be behind me because to me this is important work. This is preserving our colonial and Native American history.”

Kabot moved forward with closing the public hearing on the code amendment, provided that the language of the law will be revised, and added that there will be a five-day comment period for residents to submit any concerns. The law could be adopted by the town’s next town board meeting on Tuesday, January 12, though Votino-Tarrant noted the subcommittee would most likely need three months to fully complete the digital version of the inventory map.

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