One of the stranger pieces of legislation currently moving through the Legislature would prohibit the state from reburying the Petty's Run archaeological excavation site in downtown Trenton, virtually on the Statehouse lawn.
The bill has been approved by the full Assembly and the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee.
So why do lawmakers need to tell the Department of Environmental Protection, which has already spent approximately $1 million excavating the area, to preserve the site?
Because the Christie administration not only wants to shut down the excavation site - it wants to rebury it.
Yes, rebury a historical site that has been carefully excavated to reveal the foundations and walls of buildings dating back to the 1730s. The dig has uncovered remains of an iron-plating mill and a steel furnace that supplied arms to the Continental Army. Power was provided by Petty's Run, a Trenton stream that turned water wheels.
Why does the administration want to rebury the site? Officials say money is the reason, a fair enough explanation these days. But reburying the site - the state says the work will be done in a way that will make re-excavation possible - will cost $400,000. Protecting, preserving and stabilizing the site would likely cost less, according to a fiscal analysis of the proposed legislation by the Office of Legislative Services. Furthermore, if the state does not rebury the site, it will incur no additional cost to re-excavate the site at some future date, the OLS noted.
If money were the real issue, the cheapest thing to do would be to halt work and just walk away from the site until the state's fiscal condition improves - not cover it back up.
So, again, why the push to rebury it? Ah ... well, the best answer to that question may lay in a brief history lesson. No, not from the 1730s - from last year. December, to be exact. That was when Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno first ordered that the site be filled in and buried. The State Capitol Joint Management Commission later concurred - along party lines.
Why would Guadagno care? Well, apparently the site is visible from her office window - and, right now, it looks more like an unfinished construction site than anything else.
Administration officials may deny that's why they have it in for the Petty's Run site, but their money argument simply doesn't hold up.
So if it takes a piece of legislation to at least not rebury a site that could be a prime educational, historical and tourist attraction in the heart of the state capital, so be it.