State calls for comment on roundabout at Northampton site where artifacts found

  • Looking south at the intersection of North King Street (Rt. 5), left, and Hatfield Street, right, in Northampton, where a roundabout is planned. Photographed on Thursday, June 25, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2020 7:03:25 PM
Modified: 12/17/2020 7:03:14 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The state is taking public comment on the construction of a roundabout that’s planned for the intersection of North King Street and Hatfield Street and that would go through a site where artifacts estimated to be at least 8,000 years old were found.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation filed an environmental notification form with the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs on Dec. 14.

Starting Tuesday, public comment will be taken until Jan. 12, according to a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The secretary’s office then has 10 days to decide if an environmental impact report — which the state’s website says would include impacts of the project, alternatives and mitigation measures — is needed, the spokesperson said.

“During the public comment period, anyone may comment on the project, its alternatives, its potential environmental impacts, mitigation measures, and whether to require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and, if so, what to require in the scope of the EIR,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Copies of the environmental notification form will be sent to related city boards, including the Conversation Commission and the Planning Board, according to a legal notice the agency recently published in the Gazette.

John Skibiski owned the land where an archeological dig took place, and this summer, he filed a lawsuit in Hampshire Superior Court arguing that he is the owner of the artifacts found there and asking that construction be paused for further archeological investigation.

More than 500 Native American artifacts were found last fall during an archeological dig. Skibiski’s son, Greg Skibiski, started an online petition, which has received more than 55,000 signatures, that calls on local and state officials to prevent the construction of the roundabout. The city has said the state and federal governments are now overseeing — and funding — the project.

Some tribes in the region with ties to western Massachusetts — the Narragansett Indian Tribe and Elnu Abenaki — have made different statements and called for the preservation of any artifacts that might remain in the ground. The Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts said it took issue with the Skibiski’s petition.

It’s still not clear when construction could start.

“A time frame for construction is not yet available,” a DOT spokesperson said in an email. “However, it is anticipated that construction will begin in spring 2021.”

Public comment can be submitted on the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act public comment portal or emailed to MEPA@mass.gov, according to the notification form, which adds, “please send a copy of your comments to Bryan Cordeiro at Bryan.cordeiro@state.ma.us.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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