FONTANA — Archeologists are keeping an eye on construction work on Lake Street for signs of native American artifacts that could bring the road project to a halt.
Before Fontana was Fontana, it was Big Foot’s village — as in Chief Big Foot of the Potawatomi tribe.
The Potawatomi native American settlement covered about 50 acres within Fontana, including a portion of the Lake Street construction site.
State law mandates that any disturbance of the former native American grounds requires archeological monitoring for signs of human remains.
So when crews began the Lake Street road project April 5, an archeologist from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was keeping an eye on excavations at the lakefront site.
Historical records indicate that the Potawatomi village included lodges, gardens and even a burial ground.
But they are buried very deep beneath Fontana’s streets, said archeologist Katherine Sterner, of UW-Milwaukee’s Cultural Resource Management Center.
If crews turns up something of interest, work would have to stop while Sterner investigated the artifacts and the site.
If any artifacts are uncovered, it will be up to the archeologist to do an examination and analysis and a report of what was found. If the artifacts are pottery or arrowheads, after the site is examined and recorded, the artifacts are turned over to the property owner — in this case, the village of Fontana.
Those investigations usually last less than a day.
However, if a native American burial site is found, it could take longer to process the site.
While there is a concern that the road project might be slowed if something is found, Fontana public works director Kevin Day doubts that will be an issue.
“That area has been dug up before, and nothing has been found,” Day said. “And we’re not going very deep.”
Although workers were digging down about four and a half feet, all of the dirt they were digging up was soil heavy with sand and gravel that came from elsewhere, Sterner said.
What Sterner is watching for is dark, rich soil followed by sandy clay, which would signal perhaps the original soil that the Indian village had been built on.
Sterner said she does not expect anything of interest to turn up.
A 2013 archeological dig conducted just west of the current construction site turned up nothing. And archeologists were also on site when a gas line was installed in the area in 2015.
Again, nothing was turned up.
“This area has been heavily impacted by development,” Sterner said.
In addition, the project footprint is relatively small and the excavations are not going that deep.
Situated on the Fontana lakefront, the Lake Street project will cost about $860,000 to repair the road and install a storm water system in the parking lot.
The project involves reconstruction of Lake Street between Third Avenue and Fontana Boulevard, including reconstruction of a beach parking lot and sidewalk.
The work will cover about 1,500 feet of lakefront property.
The contractor hired to perform the work is Wolf Paving of Oconomowoc.