Indian artifacts cloud project: Cave discovery sparks environmental concern

(BY MICHAEL CLEVENGER, THE COURIER-JOURNAL)

BOWLING GREEN — Environmentalists who’ve been fighting an industrial park going up near Mammoth Cave National Park have a new focus for their opposition — the discovery of prehistoric Indian remains and drawings nearby.

The artifacts were discovered in January and February, after construction crews for the Kentucky Trimodal Transpark, which broke ground last year, accidentally punched an opening in a previously unknown 2,000-foot-long cave nearby.

Experts from Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky then discovered the bones of two Indians and several ancient drawings on hardened mud and limestone rock, in an area since sealed for its protection.

Environmentalists and historic preservation advocates argue the discovery underscores the need for full-blown environmental and archaeological studies at the transpark, which they’ve previously argued would destroy prime farmland, displace communities and potentially pollute the national park, one of the state’s top tourist attractions, known for its labyrinth of caves, underground waterways and endangered species.

“The question that remains in my mind (is) will there be other caves and will there be other cultural resources impacted by this development?” said Kenneth Carstens, a Murray State University anthropology professor.

Carstens, whose doctoral dissertation was on the relationship between prehistoric Indians and the cave-riddled terrain of south-central Kentucky, is just one of several researchers or activists arguing that more study needs to be done.

Some are even calling for construction to stop.

“They ought to … do the work they are required to do to protect Mammoth Cave National Park,” said Roger Brucker, a board member of Karst Environmental Education and Protection, a Louisville-based group opposing the project.

While the newly discovered cave does not connect with Mammoth Cave, park officials continue to be “concerned about the indirect and cumulative effects of the transpark development and its operations” on the national park, spokeswoman Vickey Carson said.

But officials from the Intermodal Transportation Authority, which is developing the industrial park, argue they’ve done sufficient studies already, and that the environmentalists are attempting to exploit the archaeological discoveries because they’ve lost all other battles.

“I view this as a delaying tactic,” said Curtis Sullivan, chairman of the transpark authority board. “If they would give us legitimate concerns, we would look at them legitimately.”

“For an industrial park,” he said, “we’ve far exceeded what needs to be done.”

Top political leaders in both parties have backed the transpark project, which proponents say could generate up to 7,550 jobs, with its vision of integrating rail, air and highway transportation around a mix of commercial and industrial activities.
Do U.S. laws apply?

Being developed by a partnership of three cities, eight counties and the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, the park eventually could encompass as much as 4,000 acres and include an airport.

Yet even as construction proceeds, critics — including the Smithsonian Institution, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Sierra Club — argue that two federal laws, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, require the developers to conduct large-scale field studies.

What’s needed, Carstens said, is for experts to walk the land, inspecting for cave and sinkhole openings, searching for evidence of civilizations that could go back thousands of years.

Unless that kind of study is done, other treasures may be missed or destroyed, Carstens said, adding that the recent discoveries help illustrate how the cultural resources in and around Mammoth Cave are among the most significant in the world.

But two state officials who oversee Kentucky historical and archaeological preservation programs — David Morgan and George Crothers — said a large scale-archaeological field study has not been required for the transpark because no federal money has gone directly to it.

Environmentalists disagree, citing more than $14 million in grants and congressional earmarks that they say clearly identify the transpark as the beneficiary, including roads through the park and water and sewer line upgrades nearby, Louisville environmental attorney Leslie Barras said.

Sullivan acknowledged that federal money is supporting projects that will benefit the transpark, but he said they primarily would serve other businesses and residents.

Morgan, the executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council, the state historic preservation office, said a federal agency ultimately would have to decide if a study is warranted.

John Mettille, a state transportation official, pointed out that his agency is, pursuant to federal law, developing an environmental review of a U.S. 31W/Interstate 65 expansion project near the transpark, and will conduct archaeological field investigations. But the scope of those studies will only be for the road corridor, which might pass through the transpark.

The studies won’t address environmentalists’ larger question — whether the transpark should have been located somewhere else, because that’s not within the agency’s purview, he said.
Court battle possible

Before it’s over, the battle may end up in court, as environmentalists last week retained Midway attorney Hank Graddy to draw up a possible lawsuit aimed at halting construction and persuading a judge to order more studies.

Their concerns, Barras said, include air quality and whether the transpark might pollute the national park’s network of caves and subterranean waterways.

A 2003 report for the Intermodal Transportation Authority by Nick Crawford, director of the Western Kentucky Center for Cave and Karst Studies, concluded groundwater under the transpark flows away from the national park.

But another expert, Eastern Kentucky University geology professor Ralph Ewers, said the geology of the area is very complicated and there is a good chance Crawford is wrong.