Governor Doug Ducey’s administration is reviewing whether Arizona State Parks officials violated state law in the leveling of a protected native antiquities site at Lake Havasu Park.
Phoenix New Times reported on Tuesday that Parks oversaw the land-clearing operation sometime after August 2017, according to a state archaeologist who wrote internal memos about the incident.
The operation likely damaged Native artifacts that had been undisturbed for centuries. Archaeologists believe Native Americans used stones at the site for making tools and grinding grains before the era of Spanish colonialism.
And the leveling activity at Lake Havasu isn't the only Parks development on the Ducey administration's radar. New Times can confirm other local media have asked the administration about alleged archaeological violations at Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial State Park, which opened in 2016.
Reached by email, Governor Ducey spokesperson Elizabeth Berry said the Lake Havasu incident is "currently under review."
"This administration cares deeply about protecting and preserving Arizona's history and we expect our agencies to conduct their operations accordingly,” Berry wrote.
A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA) also confirmed that state officials are looking into allegations of cultural violations at Parks, including the Lake Havasu incident, as part of a broad investigation on the department's practices.
Approached at a public event Wednesday, Arizona Parks director Sue Black declined to comment to New Times on the Lake Havasu archaeological site. Black has weathered multiple scandals and investigations since Ducey appointed her as Parks director in 2015, predominately regarding her treatment of employees.
A bathroom graffiti incident targeting Black triggered a three-month probe by the ADOA this summer, in which state officials questioned dozens of parks employees. Among those questioned was Will Russell, a former Parks archaeologist who raised concerns about the department's compliance with state laws governing historic preservation, including the Lake Havasu incident.
State employees with technical knowledge of regulations pertaining to historic preservation are reviewing Russell's allegations, sources confirm. Russell wrote in a September memo that he was informed that Black felt confident Parks obtained the required documentation before leveling the Lake Havasu archaeological site.
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Citing his disenchantment with Parks, Russell resigned this month for a job at the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Most of the turmoil involving Parks has been contained within the agency. But the potential damage to artifacts opens Parks and the Ducey administration to outside criticism from tribes and archaeologists.
In addition to the Ducey administration, the Arizona State Museum is also asking questions about the Lake Havasu site. State protocol requires anyone proposing development on protected archaeological sites on public land to first obtain a permit with the museum. That didn't happen, according to museum director Patrick Lyons.
Lyons said he has corresponded with "personnel from other relevant agencies" regarding the leveling of the Lake Havasu site. Beyond that, Lyons said, "The level of Arizona State Museum's involvement in any investigation has not yet been determined."