News | March 17, 2022

Rassawek saved

The sun sets over Rassawek, once the capital of the Monacan Nation, at the point where the Rivanna and James rivers meet. (@ Cultural Heritage Partners)

James River Water Authority agrees to move proposed water pump station, pipeline

In a tremendous win for the Monacan Indian Nation and cultural and historic site preservation, the James River Water Authority (JRWA) voted during a meeting Wednesday to abandon its effort to build a raw water intake, pump station, and pipeline on a sacred Monacan heritage site.

Advocates have been fighting alongside the Monacan Indian Nation to save Rassawek, the tribe’s historic capital to which all other villages once paid tribute.

“This is a big win for the Monacan Indian Nation, and we are happy to have been able to support them in the fight. It was clear from the start that siting this project at Rassawek would have had serious impacts on significant historic, cultural, and archaeological resources that highlight the region’s complex and diverse past and are of extreme importance to the Monacan Indian Nation,” said Trip Pollard, head of SELC’s Land and Community Program.

The site, which is also known as Point of Fork, is at the confluence of the James and Rivanna Rivers in Virginia.

JRWA is a joint venture of Louisa and Fluvanna counties and the pump station was designed to deliver water to support development at Zion Crossroads.

In fall 2020, the water authority agreed to study an alternative site for the project and today decided to pursue that alternative. The newly proposed site is upstream of Rassawek on the James River. Although there will still be some impacts to archaeological and cultural resources—which is expected in an area with such a long history of human habitation—the impacts will be far less and there is no evidence of burials at the new location, which was key to the Monacan Indian Nation supporting the move.

Monacan Indian Nation Tribal Chief Kenneth Branham was on hand for JRWA’s vote. “Our ancestors may now rest in peace, and the Nation will carefully consider a respectful future for the site together with neighboring landowners,” he said. “This outcome is a triumph for Native people, but also for all Virginians and Americans who seek to understand our shared human history and culture.”

“We are proud to have worked with the Monacan Indian Nation, Cultural Heritage Partners, Preservation Virginia, and other community groups and members on this effort,” said Carroll Courtenay, SELC Staff Attorney. “We applaud JRWA for taking another look at this project and working with the Monacan Indian Nation to find a satisfactory solution that protects this extremely important site. We hope other utilities take note and begin taking time to explore alternatives to proposals that impact significant cultural and historic preservation sites.”