North Carolina runway expansion plan upsets Cherokee leader

Asheville, North Carolina (AP) 2-09

The leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokee is upset with plans to remove just 25 percent of American Indian artifacts from the site of an airport runway expansion in North Carolina.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Feb. 17 that the Macon County Airport Authority plans to spend $535,000 to remove one-quarter of the artifacts in the expansion area.

Officials want to expand the Franklin airport to make the runway safer and to accommodate larger jets. Airport board attorney Joe Collins said the additional 600 feet added to the runway will make it 5,000 feet long – the distance needed for jets to take off and land.

But Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks said the tribe is “totally opposed” to the plan. He says his government had to remove all artifacts found during construction of a new school campus and expects the county to do the same.

Archaeologist Michael Trinkley of the nonprofit Chicora Foundation in Columbia, S.C., said the collection of 25 percent of the artifacts is “an abomination, it’s vulgar, it’s obscene, and it is disrespectful.”


His company found 1,500 postholes of ancient structures, 200 archaeological features, such as storage pits for food, and 48 possible burials during a dig in 2000 near the site of the planned runway expansion.

Trinkley estimated it would cost $2 million to save the artifacts.

“This is perhaps the most significant Native American site that will be found in the region in our lifetimes,” he said. “There are very few sites of this size and magnitude. There are very few sites that are left that haven’t been impacted by roads, cultivation and housing developments.”

Hicks said tribal representatives first tried to compromise with the airport board so that the artifacts could be collected and the runway built while respecting the historic significance of the land.

State archaeologist Stephen Claggett, who regulates these types of activities, could not be reached Monday, the newspaper said.

Collins said Western Carolina University, software producer Drake Enterprise and the Caterpillar branch at the county’s industrial park are among the groups that might use the longer runway.

Residents in the county’s affluent areas would also be interested, he said.

“There are a lot of second homes in Highlands, a lot of folks who have means there,” he said.