By Mark Wineka
The N.C. Department of Transportation halted Interstate 85 construction operations just north of Long Ferry Road Monday afternoon in response to concerns from a Salisbury historian.
Ann Brownlee claims DOT contractors have intruded into a project section still waiting for federal approval under Section 106 guidelines, rules related to protecting historic properties.
"They should have stopped a week ago," Brownlee said, referring to when she first brought the matter to the attention of state and federal agencies.
DOT District Engineer Pat Ivey, based in Winston-Salem, said Monday his office directed the contractor to stop work in areas under question.
Asked if the contractor had mistakenly encroached into a future project, Ivey said, "We don't know at this point."
The Federal Highway Administration will investigate Brownlee's complaint "to determine whether everything that should have been done was done," Ivey said. He added that the Federal Highway Administration is typically the lead agency dealing with historical issues.
The DOT is taking Brownlee's concerns "very seriously," Ivey said.
Kelly Seitz, a project engineer with DOT in Rowan County, said he received both written and verbal instructions Monday afternoon to cease operations north of "station 805," which is about halfway down a new service road being built toward Finetex.
All construction operations can continue south of that station, Seitz said, adding that he didn't believe Blythe Construction's progress would be adversely affected.
Blythe is general contractor for the I-85 project area (TIP I-2511) which extends from north of Bringle Ferry Road to north of Long Ferry Road.
The I-85 project north of that, TIP I-2304, extends across the Yadkin River into Davidson County, but the DOT has shelved that section at least until 2012 because of budget restraints.
Mostly because of Brownlee's efforts, the DOT has conducted several studies into the history and archaeology of the Trading Ford area to comply with Section 106 rules -- something it has yet to do to the satisfaction of the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places.
No construction can take place until that approval is in place, Brownlee contends.
Brownlee said Monday that two trading paths in the area of Willow Creek, on the west side of I-85, have been impacted by the unauthorized DOT construction.
In addition, she said the relocation of a utility line outside the project area has disturbed an archaeological site, which she considered productive and worth more study, given its proximity to the original Trading Path.
The site, on the east side of I-85, yielded a number of artifacts from the Archaic and Woodland periods.
"I think it would be impossible now to determine what the integrity of the site was," Brownlee said.
Brownlee said she first noticed the possible encroachment Oct. 27 as she was driving on the interstate toward Lexington. She visited the areas in question the following weekend, took photographs and then sent e-mails and her evidence to state and federal agencies.
It took a week before she received any response, she said.
"Honest to God,"" she added, "I do just stumble on this stuff."
Brownlee and two reporters walked a good portion of the service road toward Finetex earlier Monday.
Using a hand-held GPS device along the road, she pointed out where she thought the dividing line between project sections should be, according to her DOT maps.
"We're within 10 to 15 feet of where it should stop, right here," she said.
Construction south of the line was OK, Brownlee contended, but work north of the line should not be taking place. Workers and heavy equipment were north of the line at the time, continuing construction on the service road.
"They're trying to get it done before someone tells them to stop," Brownlee said.
DOT's order to stop came later in the afternoon.
Brownlee said Monday she hoped that all the parties involved would hold some type of meeting or conference call, with her included, to talk about the DOT's encroachment.
"The main point is, they didn't have approval to be doing this," she said.
Rob Ayers, environmental programs coordinator for the Federal Highway Administration in Raleigh, informed Brownlee that someone on his staff visited the construction area last Thursday. He anticipated having a response to Brownlee by the end of the week.
Carol Legard, the Federal Highway Administration liaison with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, also called on Ayers to stop the contractor from any more work in the area because of its possible effects on archaeological sites and old trading roads or paths.
Brownlee is president of the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association, a group she founded. She has done extensive research into the history of the Trading Ford area and its connection to Native Americans, Spanish explorers, Colonial development, the Revolutionary War, Civil War and transportation history in general.
With her research, she has worked to preserve old trading paths and roads, fords, the state's Trading Ford monument (in Davidson County), bridges, bridge remains and battleground sites.
Brownlee's work has led to constant communications with the DOT and its various branches, the State Historic Preservation Office, Federal Highway Administration, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places.
She has particularly lobbied for some kind of historic district recognition for the Trading Ford area, while pushing for the DOT to take steps to protect it in any future road-building.
The preservation association also sees threats to the Trading Ford area from Alcoa, Duke Power and owners of a proposed High Rock International Raceway.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com.