By Bill Sheets / Herald Writer
GRANITE FALLS – While Granite Falls has seen a dramatic increase in truck traffic in recent years, the city once was a thoroughfare of a different kind.
With the Pilchuck River and the South Fork Stillaguamish River running closely together through the area, long ago it was a popular meeting place for Indian tribes visiting each other north and south.
Stillaguamish and Sauk-Suiattle tribal members would visit relatives in the Snohomish and Snoqualmie tribes and vice versa, said Shawn Yanity, Stillaguamish tribal chairman.
Four tribes recently signed an agreement with several government agencies establishing a protocol for handling any artifacts found during construction of a planned truck bypass road around the city.
“If the road’s going to be done, we want to make sure the cultural resources are protected and there’s a protocol,” Yanity said.
The agreement represents another step toward the construction of the $32.6 million road, now targeted to begin as early as next year.
Snohomish County; Granite Falls; the state Department of Transportation; the state Historic Preservation office; the Federal Highway Administration; and the Stillaguamish, Tulalip, Sauk-Suiattle and Snoqualmie tribes have all signed the agreement.
Test pits dug along the route uncovered some stone flakes from the making of tools, said Steve Dickson, assistant public works director for Snohomish County.
“It was kind of an important site in early Indian habitation,” Dickson said.
No human remains or ceremonial items were found, officials said.
If any tools or day-to-day objects are found during construction, they’ll be preserved and documented by qualified archaeologists, Dickson said.
If bones or other sacred objects are found, it’s a different matter.
The construction would stop and the parties to the agreement would meet to decide the next steps, Dickson said.
The 1.9-mile road will loop around town to the north, connecting Highway 92 to the Mountain Loop Highway. It will be two lanes with paved shoulders and roundabouts at three intersections.
The road has been discussed for nearly 10 years, after Granite Falls saw a jump in the number of rock quarry trucks rumbling through its streets.
Traffic through town on Highway 92 increased from an average of 8,200 vehicles per day in 1990 to 13,000 in 2000, Ritz said. A 2002 study found that more than 1,000 trucks a day were going through town on the highway.
The town is working on becoming more pedestrian oriented and taking traffic off the streets will help, officials said.
“It was a wonderful day to be able to sign the document,” Mayor Lyle Romack said of the agreement with the tribes.
The project still has several more curves to navigate. The environmental report must go to the public and meet the approval of the state and federal governments.
The county, which is coordinating the project, is negotiating with property owners for buying rights of way along the lightly populated route. Two or three homes will have to be bought and their residents relocated, said Crilly Ritz, an environmental planner with the county.
About $12.3 million, a mix of state, federal, county and city funds, is in hand for the project, enough to start work. Final federal approval should bring in more money, Ritz said.
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.