Petty’s Run supporters work to keep dig site from being covered over

TRENTON – After seeing thousands of pro-labor demonstrators occupy West State Street outside the Statehouse Thursday and again Monday it may be understandable if passers-by Tuesday did not  immediately notice the half-dozen or so folks who set up a table just a few dozen yards from the Statehouse entrance.

But make no mistake: The members of the Trenton Historical Society are just as ardent regarding their cause: Keeping the Petty’s Run archaeological dig site from being covered over and forgotten.

Just a stone’s throw away and to the side of the Statehouse sits the discontinued dig, site of an early 18th-century mill that drew water from a creek called Petty’s Run.

Although historic artifacts have been uncovered there, the state decided last year to close the site due to steep expenses in a time of budget constraints.

It was supposed to be part of a Capital State Park project projected at $87 million, of which the Petty’s Run portion was to account for approximately $10 million.

“That should not be the limiting factor,’’ Historical Society member Richard Willinger said of the costs involved. He and fellow Society member Karl Flesch said that the cost to stabilize the open dig site could end up being less than the $410,000 price tag the state has put on filling in the dig.

An Office of Legislative Services financial analysis that accompanies legislation  to preserve the site said that OLS “has determined that the State would incur some additional cost to protect, preserve, stabilize and enhance the Petty’s Run archaeological excavation site as required by this bill.

“However, this cost could be less than the $400,000 amount estimated by the Executive to close and seal the excavation site consistent with federal and State regulations, preserve the significant finds, and provide for the future re-excavation of the site.

“Under the bill, the excavation site would not be filled or covered over as proposed by the Executive. Presumably, this could result in a lower cost. In addition, there would be no future costs incurred to re-excavate the site since it would not be backfilled.”

Tuesday was the last day for applicants to submit bids for the work, and the Department of Environmental Protection has previously said it hopes work could begin by July.

Legislation, A3699, sponsored by 15th District Democrats Bonnie Watson Coleman and Reed Gusciora to keep the site from being covered over, has cleared the Assembly. The Senate version, S2667, sponsored by Sens. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Monroe, and Shirley Turner, (D-15), Trenton, is in the Senate Budget Committee.

Gusciora and Watson Coleman previously have called the governor’s decision to abandon the dig shortsighted disregard for Trenton’s heritage and history.

The Society members who manned a table Tuesday with literature touting the tourism and historic potential of the Petty’s Run site would certainly agree.

“It’s a significant historical symbol of Trenton’s industrial past,’’ Flesch said as he, Willinger and their associates worked to educate people to the importance of not abandoning the dig.

And if the legislation is vetoed once it hits the governor’s desk, they said they will continue their efforts to lobby lawmakers to override a veto and revive the dig project.

  Petty’s Run supporters work to keep dig site from being covered over