Local, state and federal officials involved in the controversial Macon County Airport runway extension held a private meeting last week.
The Smoky Mountain News showed up at the meeting at the airport after being tipped off by an anonymous source.
When a reporter from the newspaper entered the boardroom, Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory said it was a “private meeting.”
As the newspaper reporter waited outside for the meeting to end, County Commissioner Bobby Kuppers showed up but wouldn’t comment. Kuppers went into the boardroom.
Airport Authority attorney Joe Collins, who is also the Franklin mayor, came out of the boardroom to speak with the newspaper. Collins said the purpose of the meeting was to update the signers of a Memorandum of Agreement on the progress of archaeological excavation at the site.
He said the goal was to keep everyone informed of the situation.
Asked why the public could not also be kept informed on the progress by sitting in on the meeting, Collins said it was not a meeting the public was entitled to attend.
Collins noted that part of the MOA states that any discussion regarding burials at the site will be done in private at the request of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.
Tribal Archaeologist Russell Townsend, who attended the meeting, also told the newspaper afterwards that burials were discussed and that the tribe prefers that it be kept private.
Townsend said the tribe is pleased with how archaeology is progressing but would still like more of the site excavated before the construction destroys it. He suggested that 60 percent excavation of the site may be a compromise the Tribe could agree to. The Airport Authority is doing 25 percent recovery.
Townsend also said another compromise is that the Tribe could assist Macon County in securing grants to recover 100 percent of the artifacts, but he said he has proposed that for eight years to no avail.
Others in attendance at the meeting were County Manager Jack Horton, State Archaeologist Steve Claggett, Parks Preston from the Federal Aviation Administration of Atlanta, Paul Webb with TRC Environmental — the company doing the artifact recovery, WK Dickson Project Engineer Eric Rysdon of Charlotte, FAA Environmentalist Lisa Favors, and Tyler Howe of the Cherokee Tribal Historic Preservation Office.
The officials participated in a conference call with the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, Collins said.