Bob Scoggin, 50, the Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist whose job it was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, resigned from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an “exemplary” employee who the week before had completed an archeological project on DAH property, was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
Records of work on the project, obtained under a Freedom of Information request by the Times, do not make clear why Scoggin was asked to leave. It does suggest that agency Deputy Director Rebecca Burkes was worried about construction delays and extra charges by a contractor building a parking lot over the archeological site.
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The agency has known since at least 2013, when environmental site assessments were done before construction of the new headquarters at 1100 North St., that the property was in the 19th century the site of the city’s electric trolley barn. (The trolley barn is also shown on the 1897 Sanborn insurance map of the area as Little Rock Traction and Electric Co.) That something remained of the trolley barn was suggested by a geophysical survey of the site in December 2014 and reported in February 2015.
The agency has also known that it planned to put a parking lot atop the site, which is on the eastern side of its headquarters. But no archeological work was done until construction of the parking lot began, with the removal of vacant 20th century brick and metal buildings.
Because the site is eligible for National Historic Register designation, it was agreed that Scoggin and others, including DAH building architect John Greer, would monitor the parking lot excavation and record what was left of the historic site uncovered in the process.
You might think that the state’s heritage agency, one concerned with the preservation of history and culture, would want to publicize the fact that it was about to reveal parts of the city’s history with an archeological dig in its very own backyard. But the work to uncover the bit of 19th century city history went on unheralded.
A little history: Little Rock’s trolley car system originated with the Little Rock Street Railway Co., which in 1884 got a contract with the city to build cross-town lines; it expanded a small system started in the 187os. The Capital Street Railway Co., which took over Little Rock Street Railway in 1890, got permission from the city to electrify the trolleys (they previously ran on steam) and built a power station on the sloping bank of the Arkansas River north of the trolley barn. The power station was supplied with coal from the railroad that ran alongside the river, and was lauded in the 1892 edition of the Western Electrician journal in Chicago for its novel engineering. Historical maps show the trolley barn housed eight bays atop pit rooms for washing and repairs, and that plans for the power house included a summer theater to be built on top.
Workers for contractor Ideal Construction began removing the 20th century buildings in late October. According to an account of work submitted by Scoggin to Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Director Missy McSwain, Scoggin began monitoring the parking lot excavation on Oct. 24 and within a day discovered that a 1940s addition to the barn was still standing, within one of the buildings being removed. He also found the western wall of a 1903 addition to the 1890 barn, and foundations of the 1903 addition. He worked on the following weekend to photodocument the site and gave DAH Director Stacy Hurst a tour. Hurst consulted with architect Greer about continuing work on the archeological site.
The contractor began demolishing the 1940s addition before Scoggin could record it, but did preserve two wood trusses from within the building for future interpretation of the site. The 1903 foundation and wall were photographed and, at the request of architect Greer, a trench was deepened to determine the depth of the foundation. That produced the discovery of foundation piers. Scoggin and Greer planned on documenting the piers with photos and measurements the next day, but the contractor filled in the trench before the work could be done. At the archeologist’s request, the contractor re-opened the area the next day so documentation could be completed.
In mid-November, once the contractor began removal of the foundation slab of the metal building east of the headquarters, a significant part of the 1890s trolley barn foundation, intact, was revealed. Scoggin informed Hurst, Burkes, Greer and McSwain in an email that further excavation was likely to reveal more archeological remains that would need recording, and asked for the contractor’s assistance to minimize impacts to intact features. The project manager for the construction company expressed worries to Greer and Hurst that continued monitoring of the archeological site would cause an “an increased cost and time delay.” And, indeed, five days later, on Nov. 15, the manager submitted a schedule of rates that would be charged for future archeological work.
On Nov. 14, Scoggin told Burkes he wanted to make sure that the agency would not be required to file a federal Section 106 report on the impact of the parking lot on the trolley barn site. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to report on the impact of their undertakings on historic properties; Scoggin, as Section 106 manager for the state, wanted to make sure nothing in the construction of the new agency headquarters or archeological work had federal involvement to trigger a 106 report. Burkes told Scoggin at the time that it was good the agency was looking into the Section 106 issue.
However, a day later, the same day Ideal submitted the rate schedule, Burkes asked Scoggin if DAH had received any notice from the EPA or another federal agency that a 106 review would be required. Scoggin replied that he had not, though it was possible another section of DAH might have. At any rate, he’d learned from the feds that no 106 report was necessary, he told Burkes.
Because of pressure to complete the work, Scoggin asked for, and received, help from the state Archeological Survey in Fayetteville for help completing the the documentation of the trolley barn; parking lot excavators had by then revealed the remains of trolley bays and maintenance pits.
Scoggin has declined comment, and Greer has not returned a call. Scoggin’s personnel file reveals no criticism of his work.
Scoggin has worked for the state for 23 years; before joining DAH, he was with the state highway department.