Archeology slowing Stockade pump station work

Site was known to have housing on it in past centuries
The rendering shows the proposed pump house and the current one.
The rendering shows the proposed pump house and the current one.

SCHENECTADY — Construction of a new sewage pumping station in the Stockade may be delayed by months, and perhaps another construction season, because of an archaeological investigation.

Initial findings from a first-phase study done last year determined there may be remains of a house from roughly the 1830-1850 era on the site. That led the state Historical Preservation Office to recommend a phase II archaeological study, which will involve more digging for artifacts, documentation of the findings and analysis of the results.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said he hopes the delay will only be 60 to 90 days, though that will depend on what is found and whether a full archaeological dig is then recommended.

“They found some things that make them think they have to go to phase II,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think we’ll lose this construction season, but it’s pushing everything back.”

The phase II investigation is only starting now, since the ground hadn’t thawed until recently.

The finding of early 19th-century artifacts is not surprising in the city’s most historic neighborhood.

The new $7.5 million pumping station will replace one that was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding in 2011. The older station continues to operate, and the new construction site is right next to it.

The state Office of Storm Recovery will pay for about half the cost of the new station using federal funds. The new station will be storm-hardened: Its critical sewage-handling equipment will be located on a second floor, above the flood plain. The station handles the majority of the city’s sewage, pumping it toward the Anthony Street treatment plant.

State historic preservation officials have only an advisory role on archaeological issues, but it is a critical one on projects involving federal and state funds, since making efforts to preserve history is often a condition of those grants.

The phase I study done last year involved a search of known literature about the site and the digging of some shallow test pits. The phase II study will involve more extensive digging. The cost isn’t yet known, but McCarthy said the project remains within budget.

“SHPO [state Historical Preservation Office] concurred with the project’s consulting archaeologist that a phase II report be completed,” said Randy Simon, a spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Once the phase II archaeological survey report is complete, SHPO will review the findings and provide guidance and advisement.”

SHPO could then recommend a phase III project, which would require full archaeological documentation of the site before construction could start, creating a potentially lengthy delay.

The pump station plans have already been through extensive public review and design approvals, and city officials were hoping to start work this year.

Assuming the state is satisfied after the phase II investigation, McCarthy said construction bid specifications are ready, and the city would be able to move quickly to put the project out to bid.

Carol DeLaMater, president of the Stockade Association, said historic photos show there was housing in the area of the construction site, and that a location on the Mohawk River just outside the pump station property boundary is known to be the site of the Yates boathouse, associated with the prominent Schenectady family of early New York governor Joseph Yates.

She said members of the Stockade Association are interested in reviewing and being able to comment on the archaeology results once they’re available. State laws require the findings be available for public review and comment.

“It’s not like it stops the project. They just have to address it in some way, like you have to document it,” DeLaMater said.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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