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High-tech equipment ‘scanning’ multimodal site

Josh Blackmon reads out information on the screen of a ground-penetrating radar machine while navigating around obstacles near the proposed site of a new bus station this week.

Josh Blackmon reads out information on the screen of a ground-penetrating radar machine while navigating around obstacles near the proposed site of a new bus station this week.

ALBANY, Ga. — If an unknowing passerby drove down Roosevelt Avenue this week, they’d probably think that Josh Blackmon was doing a pretty poor job of mowing the grass near a parking lot behind the Dougherty County Courthouse.

Blackmon was, after all, trudging up and down the lot with what, by all accounts, looks like a push mower.

But on closer inspection, the wheeled-device Blackmon was sliding over the grass and weeds this week wasn’t a mower or any other kind of lawn implement.

Instead, it was a highly sophisticated piece of equipment that will ultimately allow the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration and the City of Albany to see what lies beneath layers of soil and clay.

“We’re scanning this area to collect data to see what items may be buried under the surface,” Sarah Lowry, Blackmon’s colleague at the site, said Thursday.

Depending on what the preliminary data shows, archeologists and others will dig sample pits throughout the grassy lot and parking lot behind the courthouse to see if there are any significant Native American artifacts.

“We know that there were various Native American groups that were living and camping around this area over the last 2,000 years,” said Assistant City manager Wes Smith. “But what we aren’t sure of, is whether this specific site has any particular significance.”

Smith said that city officials are expecting to find shards of flint used to make weapons, or perhaps remnants of walls or encampments. While important, discovery of those types of items likely would derail the city and state’s efforts to put a new bus station on the site — a controversial move that is currently being challenged in U.S. District Court by the owners of the current bus stations and property owners adjacent to the project site.

What could pose a problem for government officials is if they discover a Native American burial ground or cemetery or a more significant, previously unknown development, Smith said.

The lawnmower-like device used by Blackmon and Lowry works rather simply. It sends a signal through the ground to a certain depth and registers a return. Technicians can determine the relative size and shape of objects by the reflection shown on the radar signal.

If it shows something of significance, workers will dig to get a better look. Otherwise, the ground stays intact.

Blackmon said that he and Lowry will continue to scan the parking lot portion of the site over the weekend and collect data before a determination is made on when and where to dig.