Oak Harbor was advised to get archaeology help before ancient remains found

  • By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
  • Friday, June 24, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

OAK HARBOR — Three sets of American Indian remains were found during downtown road construction after officials rejected a suggestion to employ an archaeologist on the project. archeology

The skeletons were found June 16 by crews working on a $7 million project to revamp SE Pioneer Way, the city’s main downtown street along the harbor just east of Highway 20.

The bones could be several hundred years old, according to Allyson Brooks, director of the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

Eleven Indian tribes were informed of the find on Monday and had until Friday to ask to participate in any decisions regarding the remains, Brooks said. At least four tribes had contacted the state, city engineer Eric Johnston said Friday afternoon.

A meeting will be held with representatives from interested tribes “to determine which way to go forward,” Brooks said.

Work on the entire project stopped for two days. Other than a 50-by-30-foot section where the remains were found, work resumed after an archaeologist was hired to monitor the work. On Thursday, work was stopped again and can’t resume until the city submits a detailed plan for handling the construction site and receives an archaeological excavation permit.

The project area, a half-mile section of SE Pioneer Way, “is in close proximity to a known archaeological site,” wrote Lance Wollwage, an archaeologist with the state office, in a letter to Oak Harbor officials dated May 26, 2009.

In the letter, Wollwage said “we strongly recommend you retain the services of a professional archaeologist to monitor and report on ground disturbing activities” on the street, and to help the city develop a plan in case artifacts or remains are discovered.

“We didn’t get a response” to the letter, Brooks said Monday.

The suggestions in the letter were not followed.

“It was not an intentional action by the city,” Johnston said. “We had intended to go through that process and unintentionally moved forward without bringing the archaeologist on at that time,” he said, declining to explain further.

Mayor Jim Slowik has asked for a review of why the recommendation was not followed, according to a written statement released Tuesday.

Brooks said the city broke no laws and faces no penalty other than potential additional expense in addressing the matter after the fact rather than being prepared beforehand.

The city now has to apply to the state for an emergency excavation permit to continue working on the site where the bones were found, she said.

“It would have saved the city a lot of time and expense if they had followed our recommendations,” Brooks said.

“You wouldn’t have to get everyone out of there and stop construction.”

Johnston said it’s not known how much the extra work will cost or how it will affect the construction schedule. Work on the project began March 1 and was planned to be finished by Sept. 2, he said.

The street is being completely rebuilt to convert it from a two-way street to one way and add angle parking, wider sidewalks and new utility lines.

The idea is to make the downtown area more pedestrian friendly, project manager Larry Cort said — “to encourage more sidewalk activity and hopefully bring some more folks.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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