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Afton projects on hold because of tribes' concerns

Four major projects in downtown Afton are on hold after representatives of tribal governments expressed concerns about possible ancient American Indian burial sites.

Afton officials plan to meet with tribal officials Nov. 7 regarding the Rattlesnake Effigy mound, which is near a planned stormwater retention pond.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last year issued a final permit for construction but the project had to be reviewed under the National Historic Preservation Act because federal funding is involved.

As part of that review, several tribal governments objected.

"Until evidence has been presented to rebut the existence of human remains on the site, the project cannot move forward, as doing so would irreparably damage the historical and cultural integrity of the (mound)," wrote Robert TwoBears, a representative of Ho-Chunk Nation in Black River Falls, Wis.

Work on a community sewer, a better flood levee, a rebuilt St. Croix Trail and improvements to the storm sewer system was to begin last month.

MPCA officials are reviewing the tribal governments' objection letters and preparing a response, said City Administrator Ron Moorse.

"We thought that we had really worked through this process and that we had reached a point where we were going to be able to move forward," Moorse said.

The city spent $14,000 last spring for a survey performed by the Minneapolis firm Archaeo-Physics. It reported finding no prehistoric artifacts or burial sites.

Moorse said his hope now is that construction can start as soon as weather allows in the spring.

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