Erosion threatens Cherokee cultural site

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A project whose aim is identify important natural and cultural places and preserve and protect Native American sites and cultural resources throughout the Southeast is hoping to see restored a section of streambank in Macon County where there once stood a Cherokee village called Tassee.

Some artifacts such as pottery shards have already been found at the Tassee site, which lies at the confluence of the Little Tennessee and Cullasaja rivers near the soccer fields along the Greenway.

However, the streambanks along this section of river have been severely eroded and need to be stabilized.

The nonprofit Native American Cultural Sites Preservation Project, which has done work throughout Western North Carolina and Northeast Georgia, first identified the site about a year ago, according to Bill Evans with the cultural sites project. They are looking to create awareness of the need to have the streambank repaired.

Evans said the concern is that they could lose the cultural resources at the site.

They have already discovered pottery shards sticking out of the riverbanks and an archaeological survey may need to be conducted at Tassee, he said.

The streambank erosion problems started here in 2004 when torrential rains from Hurricane Ivan washed out the bank here.

"It needs to be fixed," said county commissioner Bob Simpson during a recent site visit with Evans.

At one area of the site, the bank has been completely washed out. The damage can be repaired, but the quandary is whether funding can be found to repair it.

The Tassee site is on county-owned land, but according to Simpson, anything that is done there must go through the state's Clean Water Management Trust Fund because it is within the 50-foot stream buffer.

So if it was a typical budget year in better economic times it is conceivable work could hypothetically be done through Macon Soil and Water Conservation by way of Clean Water Management Trust Fund dollars.

However, this has been anything but a typical budget year.

Mike Breedlove with Macon County Soil and Water Conservation said he has been approached by Evans about repairing the site, but the issue is funding.

"We don't have the money to do anything right now," Breedlove said. "That's the stumbling block."

Breedlove said they had been promised $420,000 (a three-year grant) from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund this year, but the funding was frozen by Gov. Bev Perdue.

They had done work on this section of stream before 2004, but Hurricane Ivan blew out the bank and the problems here have worsened over time.

He said they have done some streambank stabilization work on this section of river where they can, including live tree revetments, but they have not been able to use much rock riprap to protect against erosion due to the high cost.

They have an engineer coming in the next week or so to examine the site and help determine how much funding would be needed. "We've got the ball rolling, but it's just the money," Breedlove said.

On Jan. 28, Evans, along with representatives of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, state archaeologist Linda Hall, Breedlove, and others will meet at Tassee to further evaluate the site.

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