For Controversial Office Complex, a New Approach

By Sarah Birnbaum

Feb. 21, 2012

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing a bill to allow a developer to build an office complex on an Indian burial ground on the state's south coast. That's causing friction with Secretary of State William Galvin.

Last year, the medical software developer Meditech canceled a $65 million office complex on the Freetown-Fall River border, but area lawmakers are launching a fierce effort to bring the company back. State Rep. Steven Howitt of Seekonk said the development has the potential to add 800 new jobs in an area where unemployment is a devastating 15 percent:

“The South Coast is always the stepchild of the state," he said. "We do not see the big dollars that the cities see, and here’s the opportunity for one of our towns to act on its own, to promote business.”

But for thousands of years, the site was a Wampanoag gathering place. The Massachusetts Historic Commission, headed by Galvin, believes construction crews would dig up unmarked graves. The two sides got into a very public, bitter standoff and Meditech walked away from the deal.

Now South Shore lawmakers have filed a bill that would remove the land from Galvin’s jurisdiction altogether, and require the company to hire an independent archeologist to oversee construction instead.

> > Read the proposed bill.

Somerset Rep. Patricia Haddad said the bill was fair:

"We all have one goal in mind, and that is the opportunity to bring 800 jobs to the area. But we would not want to imply, in any way, shape or form, that we do not respect the history or culture of our area," she said.

However, Bettina Washington, the Wampanoag Tribe's historic preservation officer, said the bill sets a dangerous precedent:

"This would apply to Meditech the way it's written, but once it's done one place, as Native people, we know, once it's done one place they'll do it someplace else," she said.  

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