Spare this Sacred Site!
Protesters ask Ulster, New York planners to protect Native
by Kathryn Heidecker
Sacred Site protesters.
After a group prayer and drum
circle, dozens representing several Native American groups,
including the Mohawks, Blackfeet and the Ojibways, spoke against
a proposed development at the Town of Ulster Planning Board
meeting Tuesday evening.
During a public hearing, the Ulster Manor preliminary
subdivision plat approval drew sharp criticism from neighboring
property owners, Native American groups and environmentalists
during a public hearing described by one attendee as "trial by
fire" for newly appointed planning board Chairman Renno Budziak.
Owners of the 48-acre site are seeking approval to build 104
units of townhouses, single-family homes and condos, as well as
a recreational facility, including a tennis court and swimming
pool. Under the current proposal, eight acres of the site would
contain development; the remaining 40 acres would be
"re-landscaped" open space.
However, the parcel contains a rare archaeological site - a
workshop used to make stone tools and a camp used by the Sylvan
Lake people, a Native American group who lived in the Dutchess-Ulster
area about 5,000 years ago. A second site used by a much more
recent Native American group, near the time of when the Iroquois
people first moved into the area, about 1,000 years ago. What is
especially interesting about the site, which was explored by a
dig in 2005, is that it is tucked into a spot which has never
been flooded and never been plowed over for farming, making it
pristine from an archaeological point of view. At the more
recent site, which was investigated in the late 1940s, human
remains were reported to have been found, but not reported to
have been removed.
The board took no action Tuesday; the public hearing was
continued until its Feb. 16 meeting.
Some speaking at the meeting felt the site should be left
intact. Others advocated that if development is necessary,
Native American leaders should be consulted and the burial
grounds, if any are found, should be excavated in a culturally
Those speaking at the public hearing also pointed to the irony
that evidence of Native American activity on the Ulster Manor
site was documented - and celebrated - during the
Deborah Sanchez, an Ulster County resident, said she was
disappointed with the proceedings. "It is a matter of observing
history and artifact," Sanchez stated, standing before the
Planning Board wearing a traditional Native American dress of
beaded, fringed leather. "Would you want your mother's bones to
be built upon or moved? These are rare finds in a pristine
Hyde Park resident Donna Coane, who also wore traditional Native
American dress and brought along her 10-year-old son who wore a
feathered headdress, described the devastation she felt when
encountering Native American skulls in a history museum. Coane
also pleaded with the board to give the site a more thorough
review before granting developers permission to build.
"I ask you to consider getting to the bottom of this burial
site," said Judy Abbott of Lake Hill, during her address to the
Board. At this point in the evening, Chairman Budziak questioned
Abbott about the importance of burial grounds. "What
significance would that have?" he asked, and audible gasps were
heard throughout the room. "Human remains certainly change
something," Abbott responded.
Woodstock resident the Rev. James Davis, who said he had been
studying Native American sites for over 20 years, distributed an
"Archaeology Fact Sheet" before speaking to the board. "The
Manor Quarry Site possibly contains evidence of a method used by
precontact groups for exploiting raw lithic material that is yet
unexplored archaeologically ... The coexistence of well defined
components of daily precontact life at the same site is rare and
demonstrates the importance of the Manor Site as an
archaeological resource, this was clearly a significant
precontact site and a National Register eligible archaeological
resource," he said.
Davis, and others at the meetings, called for the public review
of archaeologist Joseph Diamond's report on the site. Diamond,
also a SUNY New Paltz professor, conducted a Phase III
archaeological review of the site, but the results were never
made available to the public, nor the planning board, Davis
The managing director of the Wittenberg Center for Alternative
Resources, a non-governmental organization that is committed to
teaching about Native American culture, Davis also decried the
possible environmental impacts of development. "If we don't take
care of our estuaries, we will never again have recreational or
commercial fisheries in New York State."
We did our jobs
Planner Daniel Shuster of Shuster Associates defended the
project, saying it had been thoroughly investigated. "This plan
has received a tremendous amount of scrutiny, not just from the
Department of Environmental Conservation, but from the town, as
well as the attorney general's office took a hard look at this,"
But Marlene Englehart, a bordering property owner, said the
environmental review of the project was inaccurate. "The answers
throughout the environmental assessment form the impression of
no significant environmental impact," she said. However, said
Englehart, she has witnessed a 180-foot culvert pipe that is
draining wetlands from the area. "My right to enjoy my property
is going to be taken away," she said, "I ask the board to vote
no and five the proposed project the thorough examination and
due diligence it deserves. Patti Guido, another bordering
property owner, also spoke at the meeting. "The phase III
archaeological report was not provided for review," she said.
"This document should be examined by the planning board and the
There has been an
important archaeological find in a Town of Ulster site. First
reported on by William Richie for the NY State Museum in 1952,
it was called The Kingston Site. Richie reported that two
burials were found on that site dating to the Woodland Period.
Now called The Manor Site it is slated to be destroyed
Recently excavated by archaeologist Adam Luscier for Hartgen
Associates as part of the State Environmental Quality Review
Act, Luscier's final report states:
Site is, in fact, the rediscovery of part of the Kingston
Site 1...It is rare to find archeological sites that have
never been plowed...The Manor Quarry Site possibly contains
evidence of a method used by precontact groups for
exploiting raw lithic material that is yet unexplored
archeologically...the coexistence of well defined components
of daily precontact life at the same site is rare and
demonstrates the importance of the Manor Site as an
archeological resource. The integrity of the deposit was
considered excellent, and this was clearly a significant
precontact site and a national Register-eligible
Some have felt
moved to action in defense of this extraordinary, irreplaceable
site and have been working to find a way to preserve it, and if
not, at least allow it to be further studied for the sake of our
history before it is destroyed..
Adam Luscier's report for Hartgen -- go to
Look under "Economic Development."