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Edwards-Pitman, Inc. (EP), has conducted a Phase I archaeological survey for the proposed demolishment and replacement of a bridge (Bridge Serial No. 051-0055-0) on State Route (SR) 25 at the Middle River in Chatham County, Georgia (GDOT PI No. 0013742, HP No. 181019-002). This survey was conducted for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) under a contract with Heath & Lineback Engineers, Incorporated (HNL). The proposed project is located approximately 9.7 kilometers (km) (6 miles [mi]) north of Savannah, Georgia. The project would construct a new 13.2-meter (m) (43.25-foot [ft])-wide bridge with two 3.7-m (12-ft) travel lanes and 2.4-m (8-ft) shoulders on both sides. The alignment would be offset 15.2 m (50 ft) north of and parallel to the existing alignment. The bridge would be lengthened to reduce impacts to right-of-way (ROW) and environmentally sensitive areas. The proposed project would replace the bridge without widening the SR 25 roadway. Project funding is currently 2021 for ROW and 2022 for Construction. Traffic would be maintained on the existing bridge during the majority of construction. However, road closures of short duration (30 days or less) may be required to complete tie-in work. The existing ROW along the project corridor is approximately 61 m (200 ft). No additional ROW would be required for project implementation. Easement acquisition is anticipated on the north side of the existing ROW. The total project length would be approximately 1 km (0.62 mile).

There were no design plans at the time of survey, thus the survey area for the proposed project includes all areas within an Environmental Survey Boundary (ESB) provided to EP by HNL. The ESB measures approximately 1.5 km (0.9 mi) in length and between 137 and 183 m (450 and 600 ft) in width, and is designed specifically to encompass all areas of possible/foreseeable ground disturbance as a result of the current project. When design is complete, the project’s area of potential effect (APE) will likely be smaller than the ESB that is shown.

The project is located on Federal Lands within the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR), which is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). As such, a Permit for Archaeological Investigations was obtained under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) (Permit No. SAVWR072718). A Special Permit for Research and Monitoring was also obtained from the SNWR (Permit No. 2018-29). The area adjoining the western terminus of the ESB was surveyed by EP in 2018 as part of GDOT PI No. 0013741, the proposed replacement of the SR 25 bridge over the Savannah River (Kosalko 2019).

Prior to the commencement of fieldwork, a review was made of the Georgia Archaeological Site File (GASF) at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, and of Georgia’s Natural, Archaeological, and Historic Resources Geographic Information System (GNAHRGIS) online database for previously recorded sites and surveys within a 1-km (0.62-mi) radius of the ESB. As the project is located near the Georgia/South Carolina state boundary, a search was also conducted of South Carolina’s SC ArchSite, an online Geographic Information System (GIS) compilation of site information that is maintained by the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH). The review found that 31 previously recorded archaeological sites are located within this radius while three surveys have previously been conducted within or adjoining the ESB. Only two previously identified sites, 9CH1298 and 9CH1331, were identified within or adjoining the current ESB. In addition, the survey area is located within the Colerain Plantation District, which was identified as part of GDOT PI No. 0013741.

The objective of the archaeological survey was to locate archaeological resources potentially affected by the project and to evaluate them in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Fieldwork for the Phase I survey was conducted by EP on October 31 and November 1, 2018. This work resulted in the identification of two new archaeological sites (9CH1522 and 9CH1523). In addition, a revisit was made to two previously identified sites (9CH1298 and 9CH1331) and the Colerain Plantation District. No artifacts were recovered as a result of this survey.

Previously recorded site 9CH1298 represents the remains of the original bridge over the Back River that was constructed in the 1920s for what is now SR 25. Similarly, newly recorded site 9CH1522 represents the remains of the roadway’s original bridge at the Middle River, which was constructed at the same time as the bridge at 9CH1298. Based upon the removal of the original bridge structures during the reconstruction of the road and bridges during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as the erosion and degradation caused by scour from the river’s daily tidal shifts, the pilings at 9CH1298 and 9CH1522 are not likely to contain substantive archaeological information. As such, EP recommends both 9CH1298 and 9CH1522 as ineligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) under Criterion D. No further archaeological work is recommended at either site.

Previously recorded site 9CH1331 represents the remains of a late twentieth century dock associated with a nearby boat ramp. Based upon both the likely non-historic date of the pilings and their current, degraded condition caused by both the loss or removal of decking and erosion caused by scour from the river’s daily tidal shifts, site 9CH1331 is not likely to contain substantive archaeological information. As such, EP recommends site 9CH1331 as ineligible for inclusion on the NRHP under Criterion D

Newly recorded site 9CH1523 appears to represent a portion of the reinforcement structures installed along the shore of Onslow Island during the plantation era cultivation of rice. The puncheons, planks, and timbers at 9CH1523 lack both integrity and the potential to contain significant data on their own, and thus the site is recommended as ineligible for individual listing on the NRHP under Criterion D. Site 9CH1523 is a contributing resource to the Colerain Plantation District, however, which is recommended as eligible for the NRHP. As such, it is recommended that 9CH1523 be protected by the establishment of an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) marked with orange barrier fencing (OBF) in order to prevent inadvertent impacts from the proposed project.

The Colerain Plantation District was previously recommended as eligible for inclusion on the NRHP under Criterion A in the areas of agriculture, ethnic heritage, and social history for its extant collection of tidal rice fields. The district was also recommended as eligible under Criterion C in the area of landscape architecture as the landscape within the district retains many of its historic features and much of its historic integrity as related to rice production, and because evidence of this type of rice production is somewhat limited in Georgia. The district was also recommended as eligible for the NRHP under Criterion D for its ability to yield important information regarding the construction, spatial arrangement, and associated factors related to the production of rice in Chatham County and the Barrier Islands of Georgia. Although sites 9CH1298, 9CH1331, and 9CH1522 are located within the Colerain Plantation District, based upon their interpretations as twentieth century bridges (9CH11298 and 9CH1522) and a pier (9CH1331), they are not contributing elements of the district. In addition, SR 25, the Atlantic Coastal Highway, determined to be eligible for listing on the NRHP under Criteria A and C for significance in early twentieth century transportation and tourism, falls within the survey area (EPEI 2019). As part of this investigation, EPEI has determined that the modern roadway of SR 25 and its associated fill do not contribute to the evaluation of the district or its eligibility for inclusion on the NRHP.