The midden contains items such as tools and spear points made from stone and animal teeth and bones, according to a draft environmental document for the ferry project.
It runs from Mukilteo Lighthouse Park eastward, underneath the waterfront business district, about one-third of the way across the former Air Force tank farm. The tank farm property is one of the possible locations for a new terminal.
Building on fill dirt, above the shell midden, is being discussed as a solution, state and tribal officials say.
The Snohomish Indian tribe maintained a year-round village on the shoreline at Mukilteo for centuries, said Daryl Williams, environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes. Tulalip is the home reservation for people of Snohomish ancestry.
Carbon dating shows the area was first inhabited about 1,000 years ago and more intensively settled about 600 years ago, according to the environmental study. The area also served as a gathering place for tribes, including those who attended and participated in the signing of the Point Elliott treaty in 1855.
Most of the items were unearthed in 2006 and 2007 as part of earlier studies for the ferry project. Shortly afterward, the project was shelved because of funding shortages. Ferry officials now say the current, 60-year-old ferry dock is reaching the end of its life expectancy and needs to be replaced sooner than later. About $90 million in state and federal funds has been gathered for the project.
The work would cost between $60 million and $165 million, depending on which of four options is selected.
The first option involves rebuilding the current dock in the same location, with no other upgrades, for $60 million to $65 million.
The second is to rebuild the dock with upgrades, which would take out Ivar's restaurant, for $130 million to $140 million.
The third option is to build at the west end of the tank farm, near the business district, for $120 million to $130 million. The fourth would be to build at the east end of the tank farm, the far end, for $150 million to $165 million. This would include a new road to the site.
The ferry system plans to make a choice in May, said Nicole McIntosh, terminal design engineering manager for the ferry system.
Work won't begin until 2015 at the earliest and depending which option is selected could take up to four years, until 2019.
Williams told ferry officials in a letter earlier this month that the tribes would prefer the dock remain in its current location. A majority of elected Mukilteo city officials, however, want to move the dock to the east end of the tank farm property to ease traffic in the business district and encourage new development.
To avoid disturbing the shell middens, state officials are discussing bringing in up to 4 feet of fill dirt and building on top, McIntosh said. The archaeological deposits are already buried 1 to 6 feet below the surface, according to the study. The fill plan could be acceptable to the tribes, Williams said.
"It helps," he said. "Our board's been meeting with (ferry officials) and trying to negotiate something that would make moving to the tank farm acceptable to us. We think there's a way of doing it, it will just take some more discussion."
The wild card is whether any burial remains are present. So far, none have been found.
"A midden of this size suggests burial remains may also be in the vicinity," Williams said in the letter to the ferry system.
If one of the tank farm options is chosen, the tribes will call for more detailed excavation to be done before construction to make sure no human remains are present, Williams said.
"If any burial remains are found, the project should be redesigned to avoid further disruption of the burial site," Williams wrote in the letter.
"As long as there aren't any burial remains there, that makes things a little easier," he said later.
If any other artifacts are present, the tribes would like to leave them in their resting places.
"We'd prefer to leave it as undisturbed as we can," Williams said.
The items found so far, which include a stone adze, hammer stones and a bone harpoon valve, are in storage. The Tulalip Tribes have asked that the items eventually be delivered to them for display at their recently opened Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve.
Another state project was shut down by an archaeological find several years ago.
In 2003, crews in Port Angeles working on a facility for construction of new pontoons for the Hood Canal Bridge unearthed an ancient village called Tse-whit-zen associated with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. The remains of more than 300 people were dug up before work was stopped. The state was forced to abandon the project location in 2004.
If a new Mukilteo dock is built on the tank farm, the Tulalips would prefer it be built closer to the business district.
This location overlaps the shell midden while the east end of the tank farm does not, but more utilities would have to be added to reach the east end, which could end up being more disruptive, Williams said.
Plus, if the terminal is built at the east end, a longer pier would have to be built to accommodate the ferries because the water is shallower, he said. This would have a greater effect on tribal fishing operations, Williams said.
One other bureaucratic hurdle remains: getting the land transferred from the Air Force to the Port of Everett, which has its own pier nearby and is on record as supporting a ferry terminal on the property.
The transfer has been held up for years because the Air Force has been waiting for the state to select an exact site for the new terminal, according to Lisa Lefeber, spokeswoman for the Port of Everett.
Once that selection is made, the Air Force will do its own environmental study of the property, she said.
It's expected that the transfer can then be made before the end of this year, according to both the port and the state.
A spokesman for the Air Force could not be reached for comment.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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