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State okays building over Indian sites

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


HOLIDAY -- State officials have given their blessing to a developer's plan to build atop two American Indian archaeological sites on property soon to become Key Vista subdivision.

Officials with the Florida Division of Historical Resources recommended Ryland Communities make up for the destruction of the sites by documenting for posterity artifacts found during surveys.

The sites date from between 5000 B.C. and 800 A.D. Coastal Indians chipped local flint into stone tools, leaving behind debris for later ages to discover.

The discovery has put on hold construction of 609 homes of Key Vista on 273 acres south of Baillies Bluff Road.

Despite the recommendation by the state that could help start the bulldozers rolling, Ruby Beaulieu, local representative of the American Indian Movement, plans to complain to the Pasco commissioners, who hold the ultimate authority over the project.

"The mounds have been pot-hunted, dug up. It's about time some respect is given to these cultural sites," Beaulieu said. "We've lost a lot of history already. Why should we lose some more?"

Earlier investigations turned up seven Indian sites on the Key Vista property, only two of which were potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

County planners requested Ryland perform more intensive digs on those two sites. About 10 excavators went to work digging deeper trenches known as "coffin holes."

A preliminary report of those digs went to Tallahassee for analysis. State officials, noting the small number of recovered pottery shards and the absence of burial grounds, have recommended letting Ryland proceed.

Stopping a construction project generally requires the discovery of human remains or a unique find such as the Miami stone circle, a Tequesta Indian site built 2,000 years ago near the mouth of the Miami River.

The state's recommendation in hand, developers are asking Pasco commissioners to issue them the permits to let them disturb the site with impunity. Ryland insists the sites, which are common in Central Florida, have been damaged by years of looting.

According to the maps of Key Vista, the Indian stone chips are scattered across dozens of proposed home lots. Stopping construction on those lots could cost Ryland millions of dollars.

But in the opinion of Peno Hardesty, who has accompanied Beaulieu at previous meetings to discuss Key Vista, saving the county's heritage is worth the sacrifice of a few dozen new houses.

"Building over these sites would be an insult to our native people and a great loss to the rest of us," Hardesty said.

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