ABINGDON, Va. — Town leaders rejected a proposed archeological study of The Meadows property Monday that would have cost nothing.
The Abingdon Town Council voted 3-2 against Councilmember Wayne Craig’s motion to allow members of the Washington County Cemetery Preservation Association to access The Meadows property and perform a visual archeological survey.
Mayor Cathy Lowe, Vice Mayor Rick Humphreys and Councilmember Bob Howard voted against the motion while Craig and Councilmember Cindy Patterson voted in favor.
The Meadows, a controversial project, involves a sport complex to be built by Abingdon and a new shopping center, to be anchored by a new Food City. Many town residents oppose the project because of their concerns with The Meadows historical property and proximity to the Virginia Creeper Trail.
Town council was told in 2015 there were possibly up to seven unmarked graves – possibly slave graves - on part of the property.
“They [town council] appear to be terrified we are going to find something of importance on the property,” local historian Kathy Shearer said outside of the meeting. “What I had wanted to say was ‘I’m sure if their ancestors were buried there they would make the effort to fund where they are and the same should go for these slaves.’”
Craig had to propose the motion to have the cemetery association be able to speak at the meeting. That motion was denied without comment, with the votes split the same way as Craig’s other motion.
“It wasn’t clear when Craig asked us to speak that we had to sign up for public comment because we were on the agenda,” Shearer said.
The association was prepared to give a presentation to conduct a free archeological study on The Meadows site that includes using K9 cadaver dogs to search the area.
“I can’t imagine a group of professionals who prefer to not have this information,” said Nina Cipriani, Black Diamond Search founding member and training director with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management K9 state evaluator.
“It was a request for knowledge,” Cipriani added. “We have the experienced people; this is something that can’t be faked. This is different from a murder scene where things could be added.”
At the July 10 work session, Craig had asked Town Manager Greg Kelly update council on the ongoing project. At that time, Kelly had submitted a request for proposals regarding ground penetrating radar studies to determine whether there are unmarked slave graves on The Meadows property. Kelly noted that a firm stated the radar study would cost approximately $200,000.
When the matter of the ground penetrating radar was brought up during the regular council meeting on July 10, Lowe, Humphreys and Howard voted against the request for proposal. Craig and Patterson voted in favor.
The possibility of having Shearer and the cemetery association to come conduct a study on The Meadows was also discussed on July 10.
The information provided by the cemetery association and the dogs would not end the town’s ability to proceed with the construction but they would be able to proceed with a more “educational plan,” Cipriani said. Construction would have to stop if the graves are discovered as ground is broken.
“In a town based on so much history I can’t understand how not knowing is more important than knowing,” she said.