By Jim Schutze
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During the years he spent recovering items from this area, Troup found ceramic cups, bone dominoes, glass marbles, and even a well-preserved "Three Merry Widows" compact for storing prophylactics. Simple domestic objects like these give us a glimpse of the daily lives of Dallas' first inhabitants, he says. "These are beautiful things that were lost, but now found again. They were the characters of a world we don't know anymore. Now all we've got are these little monsters made of plastic," says Troup. Destroying treasure troves such as this one, he feels, strips the city of its character.
Not only was the building of the arena itself a matter of much debate, but the ground it would be built on was a subject of much scrutiny also. After a century-long history of industrial use, the soil in the area contains contaminants such as petroleum products that must be removed before the land can be used again. And its history as a turn-of-the-century repository of what one day was trash but now goes by the respectable name of historical artifacts poses its own problems.
"Some parts of the site used to be an old dump," says Larry Rose, the city public works special projects manager in charge of the city's participation in the construction of the arena. "There are high levels of lead and chrome there because of it."
Texas officials placed the site on the state's voluntary cleanup program, and the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission has been following the process. They, too, are aware of the presence of an old landfill dating back to the 1800s, says Terry Hadley, a TNRCC spokesman.
Actually, it seems the only ones not aware of what the arena site holds are the ones holding the arena site: Hillwood Development. And it seems they don't want to know, either.
An archaeological expert did an evaluation of the area and found nothing of value, says David Pellatier, a Hillwood public relations official. But Pellatier, unable to contact the expert, would not provide further details or the expert's name.
"Extensive due diligence was done on this site before any selection was made, and I am sure that if there are any statutory and regulatory requirements, they have been met and complied with," says Del Williams, an attorney representing Hillwood.
It is true that, legally speaking, Hillwood has no obligation to recover or preserve any articles found during construction. According to the state antiquities code, as long as they operate on private land--even if they are building with public money--the development company does not need to conduct historical evaluation of the area, explains Mark Denton, director of the state and federal review section of the archaeology division of the Texas Historical Commission. "We are still checking into it," says Denton, "but so far we have come up with a dead end."
Hillwood does own the site now, but once it is cleared, it will be handed over to the city of Dallas, and the arena will be built on public land. But then the city will lease it back to Hillwood for a few years, after which the arena will belong permanently to Hillwood, says Rose. "Essentially, the land that now is private will later become public, and then private again," he explains.
Still, there is nothing Hillwood is legally required to do, and nothing is being done. The site is guarded, and the dirt removed will be either taken to an unspecified landfill or used in the construction of the arena.
"It is unfortunate, because we would certainly like to see a project like this be built while protecting or removing archaeological treasures that are important to all of us," says Jim Burseth, director of the archaeology division of the Texas Historical Commission.
"It breaks my heart to see this happen," adds Troup. "A lot of people ask why does all this matter. I say this is where the story of Dallas is told, and [Hillwood] never took the time to know what the land held," says Troup. "They never studied its history. They were in too much of a hurry to buy up all the real estate. You just can't trust people who only worry about their bank accounts.