Artifacts find won’t derail highway work

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BENTLEYVILLE – The discovery of buried Indian artifacts where the state Department of Transportation is proposing to redesign back-to-back Interstate 70 interchanges at Bentleyville will not interfere with the nearly $50 million projects.


The cultural resource management firm PennDOT hired to conduct the preconstruction archaeological investigation in the area is recommending a full dig at the small site along Pigeon Creek to recover all of the ancient artifacts it contains, department spokesman Jay Ofsanik said Monday.


“This wouldn’t affect the (construction) project,” Ofsanik said, adding the cost of the archaeological excavation would be minimal.


The artifacts, including late Archaic Period tools and implements, were discovered after PennDOT changed its mind about the total elimination of the I-70 interchange at Route 917 after many local residents complained about the proposal when it was introduced at a public meeting in December 2012. That cloverleaf also is known as the Ginger Hill interchange.


The Bentleyville interchange at Wilson Road is a short distance to the east from Route 917, a design the federal government no longer permits because of the exits’ close proximity, Ofsanik said.


He said PennDOT has asked the Federal Highway Administration for an exception to the regulations to creating a partial interchange at Route 917, with plans showing an off ramp there from I-70 east and a westbound entrance ramp.


The projects also call for the creation of a roundabout where I-70 meets Wilson Road and the creation of longer entrance and exit ramps and wider berms and medians.


Herberling Associates Inc. of Alexandria, the firm PennDOT hired for the survey project, initially identified three potential sites where Indian artifacts could have been found. Two of the sites didn’t turn up anything of value, Ofsanik said.


He said Herberling recommended further investigation at the remaining site because it’s eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


State Sen. Tim Solobay said these construction plans remain in the early stages and could be changed.


“Where could you not dig in Washington County where you wouldn’t turn up an arrowhead?” asked Solobay, D-Canonsburg.


He said the projects also call for the demolition of the historic Newkirk Church in Fallowfield Township, a brick building converted into a steakhouse that has closed.


That decision has drawn opposition from Nikki Sheppick, chairman of Charleroi Area Historical Society.


She has proposed using the former church as a regional welcome center.


“The Newkirks were important settlers,” Sheppick said. “We can’t afford to keep losing our historic icons, and Newkirk Church is one of them.”


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