Project respectful of Taino artifacts

I was dismayed to see Rick Kearns' article ''Federal Grave Robbing of Taino Remains.'' In this article, Mr. Kearns accuses New South Associates, and our client the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, of the theft of Native artifacts and the unwarranted destruction of an archaeological site. Mr. Kearns' article was based on secondhand information, and we do not hold him responsible for repeating previous misstatements, but we encourage him to seek the full and complete story regarding this project and site.

The archaeological investigations in questions were completed in accordance with a plan developed and approved by the Puerto Rican State Historic Preservation Office and the Corps, and have been reviewed repeatedly by the SHPO and Corps and found to meet the requirements of their plan. Puerto Rican Law 112 is the basis for Mr. Kearns' statement that artifacts have been ''stolen'' from Puerto Rico. It does not apply to federal projects completed in accordance with federal historic preservation laws, specifically the National Historic Preservation Act. This is not New South Associates' determination - it is a determination that has been made repeatedly by the SHPO, Corps, other federal agencies working in Puerto Rico, and by Puerto Rico's governor. New South Associates has complied with all applicable laws, plans, and agreements pertinent to this project and in no instance are we or the Corps deserving of the charge that artifacts were ''stolen.''

New South Associates is extremely respectful of the rights and cultures of the First Peoples and has been an advocate of American Indian heritage on many occasions. The project co-principal investigator, Chris Espenshade, and the Corps archaeologist, David McCollough, have met with Taino representatives in Puerto Rico, shown them the site, and shared with them our findings and intent to produce a report that highlights the importance of their culture on the island.

We are very pleased that our project has resulted in the discovery of a highly significant Native site that is now being preserved and we believe that its future interpretation and presentation by the government of Puerto Rico will further showcase the culture of the Taino, while preserving a place with obvious cultural and spiritual significance. And, we are confident that the Corps of Engineers will make certain the artifacts collected are returned to Puerto Rico once their analysis is complete. The Corps is actively working with the city of Ponce to create a new curation facility that can accept and care for this, and other, Puerto Rican collections, which will further benefit all with an interest in the Native heritage of Puerto Rico.

- J. W. (Joe) Joseph

Vice president, New South Associates Inc.Stone Mountain, Ga.