By Mark Wineka
SPENCER -- Sure the Yadkin River is muddy, but state transportation officials continue to find even muddier waters when it comes to expanding Interstate 85 and crossing the river in the Trading Ford area.
Staff members of the National Register of Historic Places recently informed state and federal highway officials that they need more information -- from both historical and archeological perspectives -- before determining the eligibility or disqualification of four sites in this Yadkin River area.
Daniel J. Vivian, historian for the National Register, said the state has provided insufficient information for his agency to make a determination.
In an Oct. 29 letter, Vivian said he still has questions on each of the four potential sites, and he also calls on the highway officials to re-evaluate the whole area to determine whether it might qualify as an historic district.
Meanwhile, National Register archaeologist Erika Martin Seibert also calls for extensive metal-detecting surveys and below-ground investigations at numerous locations through the Trading Ford area.
"It's a lot of work that they've asked them to do,"' said Ann Brownlee, president and founder of the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association. "... How fast they'll do it, I don't know."
All this could be troubling news for the N.C. Department of Transportation, which has a 6-mile segment from Long Ferry Road to Business I-85 on a "design-build" schedule.
The DOT hoped to have a bid opening, contract award and start of construction completed within the next three months -- knocking about a year off the original completion date.
The $160 million project would include a new I-85 bridge across the Yadkin River. On the current schedule it would be completed in fiscal year 2008.
Earlier this year, URS Corp. of Morrisville prepared an assessment of the four potentially eligible historic sites in this Trading Ford area for the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
The consultants concluded that none of the four "resources" was eligible for inclusion on the National Register.
Throughout the pre-construction phases of this I-85 segment, state transportation officials -- with the backing of the State Historic Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology -- have contended that decades of development have compromised any historic elements in this section.
In large part, the report was necessary because Brownlee and others persuaded the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation to recommend a Keeper of the National Register review of the Trading Ford area before the state proceeded with the highway project.
The federal-aid project is subject to compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
If the Trading Ford sites in question were ruled eligible for inclusion on the National Register, for example, the DOT might have to alter its location of a new I-85 Yadkin River bridge and its approaches, or find other ways to mitigate damage to the historic sites.
This area has ties to Native Americans, the Revolutionary War, Civil War and, possibly the country's transportation history.
For several years now, Brownlee has fought the project and its potential impact on what she (and others) consider to be a significant cultural and historic landscape.
In his comments, Vivian said more research should be done into how this section of I-85 fits into the context of the interstate highway system. Because it dates back to the late 50's and the early days of the interstate road system, the road and bridge might be of some historical significance.
Vivian also said the state offered no evaluation of the existing railroad bridge, which dates to about 1896.
Philip Thomason, whose Nashville,, Tenn., firm is working for Alcoa in its federal relicensing effort for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, agrees that the cultural landscape in the Trading Ford area appears to meet National Register criteria.
In February, Thomason's firm produced a draft report on the cultural landscape of this section of the river. It also called for additional studies.
"Since the completion of this draft," Thomason told Vivian in an October letter, "I have come to the conclusion that a 1.5-mile section of the Yadkin River in the vicinity of the Trading Ford area meets National Register Criterion A as an historic district for its significance within the context of transportation."
The Federal Highway Administration has recently considered the nation's interstate system as potentially eligible for the National Register, Thomason noted.
"From the Beard's Bridge ruins on the north to the Trading Ford on the south, this 1.5-mile section of the river contains an impressive collection of structures and sites reflective of the evolution of transportation from the 17th century to the 1950s," Thomason said.
He said the landscape has evidence of significant fords and ferries; the ruins of an early 19th century bridge; the 1896 railroad bridge; the 1922 Wil-Cox Bridge , already judged National Register eligible by the state; the U.S. 29 bridge from 1951, reflecting expansion of the state's U.S. highway system; and the 1957 I-85 bridge.
"Collectively, these structures and sites reflect the changing methods of transportation through central North Carolina spanning three centuries," Thomason said.
Here are the four sites that the National Register of Historic Places staffers want more information on:
* Trading Path and Trading Ford -- used by Native Americans, early explorers and settlers.
* Yadkin Ford and Ferry. The ford dates back to Native American use, and historical references to the ferry reach back as far as the 1780s.
* Gen. Nathanael Greene's crossing at the Trading Ford in 1781, when he and his American troops successfully avoided the pursuit of Cornwallis' British soldiers.
* The Battle at Camp Yadkin, one of the last battles of the Civil War, when Confederate troops held off a federal calvary raid during a six-hour bombardment of Fort York.
Seibert said "controlled metal detecting" surveys and below-ground digs are needed to locate Camp McGoon's Creek, Camp Yadkin Ford, the 1781 rear guard engagement, the area where British soldiers camped on the Rowan side of the river, the bluff where Cornwallis set up his artillery and the area where Greene's militia camped on the Davidson County side.
While the state recognizes that Camp Yadkin should be eligible for the National Register, Seibert calls on the investigation of a much larger area to outline the area where the battle took place.
Brownlee has criticized the state's research into the Trading Ford area at every turn. The URS Corp. produced the third flawed report, she said, contending that the DOT used the company because it would support its position.
"They just misidentified everything out there," Brownlee told her 24-member group, which assembled for one of its quarterly meetings Monday night at Steve's Barbecue. She said URS Corp. failed to look fully at the Trading Path and two battlefields.
On Nov. 14, Brownlee sent a letter to Mary Peters, administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, asking that she consider hiring experienced battlefield archaeologists to look at the sites, especially in regards to Civil War earthworks.
Brownlee warned that the archaeological work recommended could be too invasive and destructive in improper hands. She also asked that an independent, objective person or firm oversee future archaeological investigations.
"All the work NCDOT has done to date, by its own staff archaeologists and hand-picked consultants," she said, "has been extremely biased."
Brownlee said she sent to the letter to the Federal Highway Administration because "I know no one at the state level will pay any attention to it."
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com.