Agencies cite possible historic finds at location

Biloxi, Mississippi (AP) January 2011
Two government agencies are questioning whether local officials have done adequate research on whether Native American artifacts would be disturbed at the proposed site for the Biloxi Maritime and Seafood Museum.

WLOX-TV reports that federal and state emergency management officials have told the city of Biloxi that two surveys of the old Tullis property on U.S. Highway 90 found that it “contains many intact cultural deposits” and there is a high chance of encountering Native American burial sites.

The agencies said it burial grounds are found the result would be “substantial increases in cost of building at this site, as well as extensive time delays.”

City of Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency are telling the city that it “may run into something that you can’t work around, where you’re going to have to stop construction and you may jeopardize your funding.”

Federal funding totals $3.44 million. The city could lose that money if it doesn’t meet completion deadlines.

“There’s a lot of unknowns is what MEMA and FEMA are telling us,” said Creel.

Backers had hoped to open the new museum later this year. The old museum was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Museum executive director Robin David said the only way to find answers is to conduct another archaeological dig. David wants FEMA to only test those areas where the pilings for the raised structure would go in.

“Find out what’s there. Let’s do the dig and if it’s fine, break ground and let’s build. If it’s not, if they find something of significance, then we’ll address that at that point,” said David.

David said the museum board has even agreed to spent up to $28,000 to pay for the survey.

“So we can move forward and get past the hurdle instead of everybody just throwing their hands up in the air and wondering, ‘Oh well. What if?’ Well, we can ‘what if’ forever. We want our museum built,” David said.

David said there have been extensive archaeological digs on the property for years and years. A burial site has never been found.

Creel said it cost about $200,000 to conduct an archaeological survey of the Visitor’s Center north of the Biloxi Lighthouse.

He said it could cost at least $500,000 to excavate or possibly remove any artifacts and remains found on the Tullis property.

Creel said Mayor A.J. Holloway will likely discuss the issue with the city council next week.