NORTH PORT — North Port is soft.

As in spongy, marshy and sandy. Which, unfortunately, can be perfect for unearthing ancient burial sites. Construction is the chief culprit. And loose earth also opens the door to artifact and fossil looting, as well.

And as the city races to 100,000 residents, its anatomy could risk more of its history and culture. To help identify and protect such places, North Port will hire a full-time archaeologist.

Commissioners in budget talks have funded the $51,000 position. It will be paid from the general fund, which did not see an increase to taxpayers this year, said Commissioner Pete Emrich.

Emrich at first opposed hiring an archaeologist because Sarasota County has one. Steve Koski performs some work for North Port. He was the underwater archaeologist at North Port’s Little Salt Spring. He also explored and documented Warm Mineral Springs, another historic site.

In budgeting talks in the last week, however, “Mayor (Debbie) McDowell asked if the city uses the Sarasota County archaeologist for city reviews of new home construction, large-scale developments and land clearing,” Emrich wrote in a social media posting of recent budget talks and of his change of heart.

“The answer is yes and frequently. But if the county archaeologist retires or resigns, the city is in trouble. City Code says if it’s known something is probable archaeological, it must be reviewed. None of the planning staff are archaeologists or have extensive archaeology training.”

An archaeologist in North Port dovetails with a broader push to oversee land development. North Port, a Tree City USA community, will create a Natural Resources division under its Planning Department. Arborists, environmentalists and others will serve within Natural Resources.

The archaeologist, who studies human history and prehistory, would evaluate and examine pre-construction sites, document things and arrange removals, secure state designations and dollars for historic sites, among other tasks. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Vice Mayor Jill Luke pushed for the job that would include scouting for artifact looters. North Port police last year investigated a brazen looter along the Myakkahatchee Creek. They found holes along the creekbed suggesting illegal looting of human artifacts or unlicensed fossil hunters. Florida is blanketed in fossilized bones, plants, trees and animal parts.

And since the Myakkahatchee Creek is under Florida’s jurisdiction, it was unlikely a culprit would him/herself get unearthed. But an expert in historic artifacts would understand state rules, direct authorities to possible solutions, Luke said.

Hiring an archaeologist, Luke said, balances historic assets with inevitable growth and land development.

“And I’m thrilled about that,” she said.


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