Thursday, August 26, 2010

Workers Claim Bones At Construction Site

ONANCOCK -- Could Onancock's new $12 million wastewater treatment plant be built on top of a burial ground? Paul Smith of Wattsville talks about what he says are skeletal remains that he turned over to the town of Onancock on Tuesday. Smith, a pipe layer, said he found the bones while working on the town's new wastewater treatment plant but alleges he was threatened by the project manager not to disclose the discovery.

A worker at the site alleges the manager for the construction project swore workers to secrecy after human skeletal remains were found on the site last year.

Paul Smith, a pipe layer who was laid off last week from the nearly completed project, this week brought a collection of bones he says were found there to the Onancock Town Office.

"We found bodies all over that job site," said Smith, who until he was laid off, worked for Galway Bay Corp. of Mount Braddock, Pa., the company building the plant.

"It must have been an old cemetery," he said.

Smith said workers told the manager about finding bones that appeared to be human, but he allegedly told them to keep quiet.

"If we say anything, we're ... done, is what he told us," Smith said. "It was all about the mighty dollar."

The bones Smith handed over to the town included a human jawbone, some teeth, a femur attached to a hip socket and another leg bone -- all of which he said were dug up during the plant's construction.

He also said another worker had found a complete human skull.

The remains were turned over to the Accomack County Sheriff's Office and will be taken to the medical examiner's office in Norfolk, Va., for identification, said Major Todd Godwin.

A second worker, Thomas Parks of Onancock, said he found "probably 20 or 30 bones" that appeared to be human at the site. He also claims he was told by the boss not to say anything.

"I just started stockpiling them," Parks said, adding that the manager's dismissal of the discoveries troubled him. "I was really frustrated about him not saying anything about it -- this is my home; I grew up here."

When reached for comment, Galway Bay President Greg Maynard said he became aware of Smith's allegations only a half hour before when he received a telephone call from Onancock Town Manager Sandy Manter.

Manter was out of town Wednesday and a receptionist at the town office referred all inquiries to the Sheriff's Office.

Maynard said after speaking with Manter he called the project manager, who denied knowing about human remains being found at the site.

The manager in question had "no knowledge of it happening; it was never reported to him by the workers," Maynard said.

Some 20-30 workers were on the job and many knew about the grisly discoveries, Smith said.

"All the electricians knew. Anybody that was on a backhoe knew," Parks said.

Smith said he kept the bones he found inside a shed at his home.

"It was an emotional burden," he said, but added he feared his livelihood would be endangered if he revealed their existence.

Parks moved back in with his parents after he was let go from the job and said the bones he found, mostly leg bones, are packed away among his stored belongings in a box from the job site labeled "mixed parts."

"That's just a bad joke," he said.

Parks said he originally thought reburying the bones himself once construction was completed would be "a respectful thing," but said he now plans to turn them over to authorities.

Last fall, two 19th century headstones were found at the plant site and an archaeologist was brought in to investigate. He concluded they likely came from a cemetery in Belle Haven.

Smith said he and other employees were "told to get out" and given three days off without pay during the period when the archeological survey was conducted.

Workers found the skeletal remains about 200 feet north of where the headstones were found, in a location between an old concrete tank and some metal tanks, Smith said.

Parks said the hole from which he saw human remains being pulled out was "at least 6-8 feet deep." The location is now covered by concrete, wires and pipes, he said.

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