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Whistleblower: Archeologist Minimized 'Cultural Richness' of Site Planned for Water Project

Mallory Noe-Payne



For centuries, a site in central Virginia was capital of the Monacan Indian Nation. Today it’s owned by Fluvanna and Louisa Counties and officials plan to build a water pump there. They say the infrastructure is needed to provide water to residents and businesses in Zion Crossroads.


Now those plans could be derailed by allegations of misconduct lodged by a former employee of the archaeological firm that tested the site. 

In a sworn statement, the employee Eric Mai alleges that the archeologist in charge of testing the site lied to state regulators and mischaracterized the “cultural richness of the area.” 

“The archeological remains we found during testing… were among the most impressive I saw during my more than six years with (the firm),” Mai wrote of the site, called Rassawek. 

In seven detailed pages, Mai lays out how the crew hired to do the sensitive archeological work was unqualified and untrained. He says his boss told him that she “avoids hiring people with master’s degrees because they ask for too much money.” 

“The archeologist sent unqualified construction workers in to do archeological work and destroyed resources as a result,” said Marion Werkheiser, an attorney for the Monacan Tribe.

In his complaint, Mai writes that the workers used improper equipment and could have damaged artifacts. 

Mai also details repeated requests for more advanced technology that were turned down, and says that consequently it’s likely the reports the firm produced are “inaccurate and the quality and usefulness… is poor.” 

He alleges that the crew was instructed to lie to officials from the Department of Historic Resources when they visited the site, and that he later discovered his own resume had been altered to misrepresent his expertise in Native American history. 

Now lawyers for the Monacan Tribe argue that those actions have disqualified the project from getting the necessary federal permits the project needs to proceed. 

Justin Curtis, an attorney with the James River Water Authority, disagrees. He says they’ll be independently investigating the claims. The James River Water Authority is a joint venture between Fluvanna and Louisa Counties.

“The Water Authority will be conducting a very thorough review of the consultants work on the project,” Curtis said in an interview, acknowledging that the claims are serious.

Although the Water Authority has hired a new archeological firm, the group is also still working with the firm that's the subject of the whistleblower's complaint.

The Monacan Tribe is threatening to sue if the Army Corps of Engineers grants the project a permit. The Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to a request for comment.



This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief.
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