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Secret Portwalk Dig Yields Buried Treasure
Joshua_Wentworth_hosue moved in 1973

 

Sensitivity analysis

The very existence of the unpublicized “dig” and the professional archeology report comes as a surprise. Portwalk’s owners have claimed from the outset that their 5-acre project encompassing 635,000 square feet in six buildings is not being constructed on a historically sensitive area. In 2009, complaints from local residents and archeologists prompted state and federal agents to request a halt to the project to determine whether Portwalk was in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that protects cultural resources including those underground.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to the request to slow the project. Portwalk officials explained that they had hired their own archeologist, Victoria Bunker of Durham, to assess the situation, and had followed her recommendations. The private report, however, was closely held by Portwalk and not filed with the state until the hotel was completed the following year. It appears as an appendix to the Phase II project filed by IAC in 2010.

“Our construction doesn’t trigger a historic review,” Portwalk spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne told Foster’s Daily Democrat in July 2009. “We definitely respect the history of this area,” he added.

Edna Feighner does not agree. As review and compliance coordinator for the N.H. Division of Historic Resources, Feighner led the failed charge to halt Portwalk construction two summers ago. She said Portwalk, in effect, took advantage of a flawed federal, state and city permitting system to make an end-run around regulatory scrutiny.

Feighner contends that Portwalk did not follow the recommendations of the original Bunker “sensitivity report,” now on file with N.H. DHR in Concord. Bunker’s report assigned “no sensitivity” to the likelihood of finding Pre-Contact Native American artifacts on the site, as Portwalk duly reported to the press in 2009. But from the first page of her assessment, Bunker clearly indicated the site might yield historic artifacts from the 1700s and 1800s. She noted: “Sensitivity for the historic period archeological elements has been assigned to portions of the property.” By law, Portwalk was not required to release results of a private assessment at the time, and despite requests from the media, developers did not.

The 70-page Bunker report (prepared for Parade Office LLC) offered a clear case for why Portsmouth artifacts beginning in the mid-1700s might be found underground. It acknowledged that widened roads, public utilities, urban renewal and the building of the Parade Mall have compromised the site. But despite all that activity, Bunker wrote, important resources below the surface “could have survived in relatively good condition.”

Bunker concluded that archeological field work was advantageous to preserving the history of the North End. She emphasized multiple times that the scope of the Portwalk project should be “developed in consultation with N.H. Division of Historical Resources.” Instead, according to Feighner, the developers filed their project independently with the EPA as having “No Historic Resources Present.”

Feighner said, “They (Portwalk) get a report that says this area is sensitive. They withhold that information. They file their notice of intent to the EPA electronically and check off the box that says there are no historic properties … and EPA doesn’t verify anything.”

CONTINUE PORTWALK HUD PROJECT

 

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017 
 
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