National Trust Urges High Speed Rail in Shockoe Bottom Proceed with Utmost Caution

November 7, 2017 by Erica Stewart

In recent weeks, a proposal to link Washington, D.C. and Richmond through a high speed rail system has been gaining steam. This proposal includes construction of a new railroad facility at Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom. Construction of a high-speed railroad facility and the real estate development that is likely to follow have the potential to impact the hallowed place we seek to commemorate through creation of a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park. In the long-term, the impacts could be positive and could be negative. It is indisputable, however, that the federal review process for the railroad facility will substantially influence the City’s promised master planning for Shockoe.

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams captured the concerns of National Trust’s Senior Field Director and Attorney, Rob Nieweg and our local partner Ana Edwards in a column that ran today entitled, Environmental impact of rail project on Shockoe slave heritage is concerning.”

As Rob points out in the column, as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) evaluates the potential environmental impacts of the facility at Main Street Station, it is essential that the FRA pay close attention to the archaeological, historical, and cultural values that are embedded in Shockoe Bottom.

In a draft environmental impact study, there is scant attention paid to the deeply significant slave history of Shockoe Bottom and authors dismiss any direct impacts on historical sites like Lumpkin’s Jail and the African burial ground. According to Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Lumpkin’s Jail site is about 125 feet from the closest area of potential disturbance; the burial ground, about 200 feet.

The public is invited to participate in the federal review process by providing a comment at http://dc2rvarail.com/contact-us no later than November 7th. Please join the National Trust and our allies in telling the FRA that Shockoe Bottom is a significant historic place. That the proposed railroad facility has the potential to harm Shockoe. And, that FRA should fully explore ways to “avoid, minimize, or mitigate” any future harm to Shockoe.

Additional messages to consider when formulating your comments to FRA include:

  • The African Burial Ground, Devil’s Half Acre (Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site), and other buried remains throughout Shockoe Bottom are extraordinarily significant archaeological, historical, and cultural resources because of their association with the nation’s enslavement history. This National Treasure merits protection against harm.
  • Only one archaeological site in Shockoe Bottom has been investigated and documented – the Devil’s Half Acre. Archival research has indicated a high likelihood that additional archaeological remains survive in Shockoe. Therefore, the Federal Railroad Administration should commission a thorough study of the archaeological, historical, and cultural resources in Shockoe Bottom – before making any decision about the proposed high-speed rail facility. As part of this study, it is essential that Shockoe is fully evaluated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • To protect Shockoe, the Federal Railroad Administration needs to expand the so-called “Area of Potential Effects” to encompass Shockoe’s archaeological, historical, and cultural resources, pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, the FRA must consider the full range of potential impacts – “direct, indirect and cumulative” -- to these surviving resources. Importantly, the FRA must also consider various ways to “avoid, minimize, or mitigate” potential harm from the railroad facility, and any reasonably foreseeable real estate development.
  • The archaeological remains in Shockoe Bottom are not the kind of typical archaeological site that is valuable primarily for “data recovery,” but these resources have extraordinary importance and should be preserved, interpreted, and commemorated in place.
  • Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act prohibits the “use” of any historic property or park land in connection with a transportation project, unless there is “no feasible and prudent alternative” to doing so. The African Burial Ground, Devil’s Half Acre, and the proposed Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park are all historic sites and/or parks that could be “substantially impaired” by the proximity of the high-speed railroad project, thus triggering the prohibition of Section 4(f). In addition to the mandatory preference for alternatives, Section 4(f) also requires that the Federal Railroad Administration’s Main Street Station project incorporate “all possible planning to minimize harm.”

Thank you in advance for providing your comments about Shockoe Bottom to the Federal Railroad Administration by November 7th.

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