Montgomery County Executive denies access to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” archaeology reports

After spending more than $1 million to buy a building oral tradition suggested was the “real Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Montgomery County paid an archaeological consultant to conduct research at the property to identify intact archaeological resources to assist in interpreting the property. Last year I requested copies of the archaeology reports that the consultant produced. Funded by county, state, and federal dollars, the archaeological research was undertaken to complement Montgomery County’s plans to develop the property as a new heritage park.

Screen capture of Montgomery County Parks Department Josiah Henson Park master plan Website with maps showing archaeological excavation locations. Captured Nov. 1, 2010.

Montgomery County Parks Department staff posted detailed maps showing the locations of past and proposed archaeological excavations at its Website and widely disseminated the maps to local community groups and the press. Despite these disclosures of sensitive archaeological information, County Executive Isiah Leggett has joined the Montgomery County Department of Parks in denying access to the archaeology reports to “protect sensitive archaeological information. Reprinted below is the email I just received from the county executive:

From: Ike Leggett [mailto:Ike.Leggett@montgomerycountymd.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, February 08, 2011 3:37 PM
To: David S. Rotenstein
Subject: RE: Josiah Henson Park archaeology

Dear Dr. Rotenstein:

I received your letter requesting my support in obtaining the archaeology reports prepared on the Josiah Henson Park.   I am sure that your interest is professional and I understand your desire to obtain the reports to assist you in writing about the history of the area.

I have been informed by the Department of Parks that these reports are protected and not available to the public.  I have also been informed that under Maryland Access to Public Record Act (State Government Article, 10-618(g), Annotated Code of Maryland), the reports in question contain site specific information of a historic property and may be denied by the custodian of those records. This decision by Commission staff complies with state and federal laws regarding the disclosure of sensitive archaeological information.

While I am sorry the research you are seeking is unavailable, I understand the department’s concern and the need to safeguard certain material.  I appreciate your interest in the history of our county.

Sincerely,

Isiah Leggett
County Executive

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