Members of the want to see their ancestors’ graves protected against homebuilders and excavators, but were told by the Southampton Town Board this month that they first need to provide a map pinpointing sensitive areas.
The map, a project spearheaded by community activist , would highlight parts of town where remains are likely to have been buried and would be available for builders to consult before starting a project. Areas identified as sensitive would be subject to heightened environmental review, according to a town board resolution passed in 2010.
“There is a level of support but it’s a difficult piece of legislation to enact without a map,” said town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst during a Dec. 9 work session.
Votino-Tarrant did not return requests for comment on the map, a project she has been working on for at least a year. To set a deadline for the map and potentially move forward on protecting the graves, Throne-Holst said that she would reach out to Votino-Tarrant, who is a member of the town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board.
The tribe has been rallying for legislation protecting graves since 2003, when a mass burial site was unearthed on Shelter Island, said Rebecca Genia, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s archeological advisory committee. The issue came up again in 2006, when more bones were found on property along Montauk Highway in Water Mill, she said.
In January 2010 the town board adopted a resolution that requires that areas where human remains are likely to be interred — as identified by the map — receive heightened levels of State Environmental Quality Review Act review. The map has to be adopted by the town board for the legislation to take effect, according to the text of the resolution.
“The developers have been raping this land,” Genia said during the work session. “We haven’t said a whole lot; we’ve let the powers that be, be.”
She added that “life didn’t begin in 1640,” the year English settlers founded Southampton.
“Nothing is sacred anymore, just the almighty dollar,” Genia said.
The map’s completion could be the least of the town’s worries, after Shinnecock representatives brought up a payment dispute at the meeting, their first before the board since 2010. Genia told the town board that Flanders archeologist Jo-Ann McLean has boxes of Shinnecock artifacts she will not return until she is paid for her services.
It is unclear how much McLean is owed for her work, completed on Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Genia said McLean was contracted for a total of $120,000 worth of work in 2005.
Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato advised the town board not to comment on the dispute during public session. The town and McLean are not in a payment dispute because there was never a contractual agreement, said Throne-Holst’s assistant, Jen Garvey, in an email.