Bypass Bridge to be Built on Bones

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The Susquehanna River is an ancient thruway that once served as a major route for trade and diplomacy among Native American nations. The section of the river near the University included important interactions between Native American and Euro-American cultures. The river is now set to host a major man-made thruway with a new bypass bridge. Despite the new bypass bridge being promoted by many in the area, it also draws criticism.

The construction of the bridge will disrupt the scenery of this historical and sacred area. The bridge’s additions will be built directly on ground that contains thousands of years of Native American archaeological evidence.

A source close to the project said that a state archaeologist has evaluated the site and found that “the bridge will disturb far too much evidence of human habitation.” Despite dense Native American archaeological evidence on-site, the state agency in charge of the bridge project, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), makes no mention of the Native American lands on its website (csvt.com).

PennDOT’s stance is that “the federal government has no interest in this area because the trail is a water trail, meaning the only people they have to consult with are boaters.” The point of conflict over the bridge has not yet been made public. Native Americans, the National Park Service, and the National Register of Historic Places are examining possible options for revising the project.

Special Assistant for Athletic Fundraising and former men’s lacrosse head coach Sid Jamieson, a local Native American chief, explained how the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Environmental Task Force (HETF) wrote a letter to PennDOT urging to “not build a bridge on [their] bones.” The Haudenosaunee nation has a long spiritual, cultural, and historic relationship with the Susquehanna Valley. The HETF has a mission “to conserve, preserve, protect, and restore” this area.

Jamieson has been working tirelessly to gain the government’s recognition of this valuable area. Jamieson and a team of University faculty and students assisted in the National Park Service’s designation of the Susquehanna River Component Connecting Trail as a national historic corridor. The Susquehanna River Component Connecting Trail is now designated as part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Connecting the two trails protects vital natural and cultural history.

Along with possibly demolishing the archaeological site, the height of the bridge will also block the view of the scenic Blue Hill Mountain. The bridge’s height was chosen to avoid both the disruption of riverside railroad lines and the threat of flooding. No one considered that the bridge will block the Blue Hill Mountain, which is both a scenic site for outdoor enthusiasts and a sacred site for Native Americans.

Cameron Williams ’18, a member of the men’s crew team, had never heard of the bypass bridge. He said that the team often enjoys the beauty of the Susquehanna while taking breaks from rowing. He was disappointed to hear that the bypass bridge will disrupt the nature of the area.

“I wish they would have consulted the community more before making that decision [to build],” Williams said.

Possible alternatives to the construction plans include moving the location of the pile-ons or issuing a major archaeological project at the construction site. The archeological finds could then be displayed at a potential visitor center on Packers Island. Packers Island is located along the Susquehanna River where a view of the Blue Hill Mountain would be uninterrupted by the bridge. The visitor site would benefit the local community, as it would be a place of heritage for Native Americans and an educational experience for other local community members.

David Minderhout, a cultural anthropologist with expertise in Native American culture in the Pennsylvania area, said that he “would be interested in helping” to develop the project if plans were made for a Native American visitor center. 

Jamieson foresees no changes being made to construction plans.

“The monstrosity will be built,” Jamieson said, “as the government is unwilling to acknowledge what importance lies here.”

Since the bridge is in its final planning stage, Jamieson says that it is too late to fight for any revisions. For the future, Jamieson advocates for the continued development of a relationship built on mutual trust and respect between the native people and the government.

“The Haudenosaunee Nations welcome this discussion on behalf of the next seven generations,” Jamieson  said during his speech at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation in Washington, D.C. “We have been given the duty to live in balance with each other and all living things.”

Others have also raised environmental and quality-of-life concerns about the large project. A Northumberland man, Dick Updegraff, has taken issue with the construction. Updegraff is worried about Ridge Road, which he lives on. He says that the proposed Route 147 interchange will “make [his] rural and beloved Ridge Road a very heavily traveled CSVT roadway connector.” Updegraff, along with a group of concerned citizens, believes that the project “will dramatically increase traffic on Ridge Road to levels that will negatively impact safety, welfare, and property values.”

Updegraff said that the bridge might be a danger to the “eastern spadefoot toad (Pennsylvania endangered species) and the northern long-eared bat (federally endangered species),” which “have recently been discovered in areas near the locations of the proposed 147 Interchange and the Point Township, Northumberland portion of the CSVT.”

Updegraff and others who have joined his campaign have written letters to the Federal Highway Administration, Pennsylvania State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver (who represents part of the area affected), and President Barack Obama about their concerns. They say they have received no helpful responses.

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