The Catawba Indian Nation, state history and archaeology officials and the county's museum foundation have reached a new agreement about how best to protect land on the Catawba River that is home to two known 18th century tribal villages.
The agreement, signed Friday, will ensure that existing and yet undiscovered archaeological sites on the property at Sutton Road and Interstate 77 in Fort Mill Township are protected if the land is developed, according to a release from Dr. Wenonah Haire, the tribe's historic preservation officer.
"It will allow progress but at the same time guard what is vitally important to us from a historic standpoint," Haire said Tuesday.
The agreement is an expansion of one created in 2007 when the land was slated for development. Those plans fell through, and the property's landowners sold a parcel to a Charlotte-based health care provider, raising concerns among some museum and community leaders about whether artifacts and historically significant sites would be protected in development, a concern foundation leaders assured was unwarranted.
In 1998, Jane Spratt McColl donated 400 acres to the Culture and Heritage Foundation for the purpose of a new county museum and green space.
Leaders of the foundation, which supported the county's museums, partnered with a prominent developer to build an eco-friendly community on some of the riverside property. In exchange for $4.5 million, the foundation sold partial control of the land. Real estate sales would help pay for a new county museum along the river. But in 2008 the economy soured and with it all plans for building.
Land surveys done in preparation of development revealed two 18th century Catawba Indian villages and other significant archaeological features.
Less than two years ago, stakeholders began meeting to update the old agreement. They included representatives from the S.C. Department of Archives and History and Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The agreement doesn't apply to a 20-acre parcel the Sustainable Development Group sold last year to Carolinas Healthcare System, which hopes to build a hospital there.
Haire said she has no concerns. She feels confident that she, other stakeholders and hospital representatives will sit to work out a similar agreement.
CHS spokesmen have said that they're aware of and committed to dealing with any archaeological sites responsibly.
The agreement is "comprehensive" in addressing all parties' concerns, said Jonathan Leader, state archaeologist. Leader and another state official participated in the process of developing the document and signed it.
Gary Williams, who manages the land, said the agreement reflects the foundation's long-held desire to protect the land's archaeological features.
Haire said all parties agreed to revisit the document periodically to ensure it's being followed and update it if necessary.
"We want it not to be something that collects dust," but a "handbook" referenced regularly, Haire said.
According to the agreement, all artifacts found on the property are the property of the Catawba Indian Nation. Many already unearthed are in safe keeping at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but the tribe can get them any time, Haire said. The tribe is in no hurry, she added.
"The worst thing you can ever do to artifacts is bring something home just because they belong to that culture," she said.
The agreement "spells out in more detail the procedures to be used in future development" including "a widened scope of protected areas."
The document ensures that if development is happening near an area tribal officers believe has potential for artifacts or human remains, an archaeologist will be on site with "eyes there that know what they're looking for," Haire said. It also calls for the creation of covenants to protect sensitive areas and applies to future landowners, Haire said.
If the foundation sells more land, Williams said the agreement "goes with the land, and we'll make sure they honor it."
"We're really excited about it," Haire said. "I feel this is a new day."