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Posted 2/11/2013

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted a consulting parties meeting Feb. 7 to gather information and discuss research options to document whether or not a cave in Trimble County has an association with the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is the name given to the escape routes for slaves from southern slave states to freedom in the North and into Canada. Because Kentucky was the last slave state before freedom, a number of escape routes went through the state, including Trimble County.

The Corps is the lead federal agency in the investigation since it is reviewing an LG&E permit application to construct a fly-ash landfill which proposes to impact not only the cave, but streams, wetlands and a pond on an approximately 550-acre parcel of property. A Department of the Army Permit in accordance with Section 404 Clean Water Act is required to fill the “waters of the United States” on the property.

The verification of the cave’s connection to the Underground Railroad has not been made, but the Corps feels there was enough activity historically in the region to warrant a more in-depth investigation.

“Considering the use of caves in Underground Railroad activity, the presence of an abolitionist, and the prominence of Trimble County as an escape corridor, the Corps, in consultation with the Kentucky Heritage Council, felt that additional research was warranted,” said Leiellen Atz, contract archaeologist, with the Corps Regulatory Branch. “We directed the applicant to hire a consultant to conduct the research.”

LG&E, the applicant, contracted with Dr. Alicstyne Turley of Berea College, to review the cultural resources information and provide an evaluation of “Wentworth Lime Cave’s” potential connection to the Underground Railroad. This report’s information is supplementing the consulting parties’ data from the discussions at the first meeting Feb. 7.

At this meeting, the Corps met with representatives from several agencies and organizations including LG&E, Sierra Club, Kentucky State Historical Preservation Office, the African-American Heritage council – part of the Kentucky Heritage Council, and other Kentucky professionals. The team used historical documentation from Turley’s report to springboard the continued investigation.

The Wentworth Lime Cave contains a number of inscriptions, some of which date from the 1800s to 1974. Natural features such as caves and rock shelters were known to be used as holding areas for escaping slaves. In addition, a prominent abolitionist, Delia Webster, owned a farm in Trimble County.

“Currently we do not have enough documentation to determine if the cave is associated with the Underground Railroad or if it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” said Kimberly Simpson, Corps project manager, reviewing LG&E’s request for a DA permit. “A cultural resource is only considered an historic property if it is listed in or eligible for listing in the NRHP. Federal agencies are required to consider the impacts of undertakings on historic properties.”

Simpson added she felt the meeting provided avenues of research that will help resolve the question of whether or not there is a connection to the Underground Railroad and help us determine if the resource is eligible for the Register.

Criteria to be placed on the National Historic Register
For the cave to be placed on the National Historic Register, it must meet one or more of the following criteria:
• Criterion A: Associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history; or
• Criterion B: Associated with the lives of persons in our past; or
• Criterion C: Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
• Criterion D: Have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of federal actions on historic properties–such as the proposed landfill and the effects on the cave. This particular project is subject to Section 106 because it would require a federal permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

The Corps of Engineers in consultation with the Kentucky Heritage Council and the information drawn from meetings with consulting parties will make the determination if the site is of historical significance and part of the Underground Railroad. The determination of historical significance will be used to assist the Corps in making a Determination of Effect to historic properties. Section 106 looks at the level of impacts on historic properties: no effect, no adverse effect or adverse effect.

If it is found the cave is an historic property, the Corps would work with the consulting parties and the Kentucky Heritage Council (KHC) to meet the requirements of the law: avoidance, minimization or mitigation. The law allows for avoidance, minimization or mitigation; it does not require avoidance over minimization or mitigation.

“We at the Corps are taking this decision seriously and appreciate the documentation and support from the agencies and organizations in helping the Corps and the Kentucky Heritage Council in our decision,” Lee Anne Devine, chief , south section regulatory branch. “This is not a decision we want to rush through. We want to be thorough and base this decision on decisive data.”

Information pertaining to this application is available for public examination during normal business hours upon prior request.