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Burial ground may be located under Oak Harbor's Pioneer Way

State experts now believe that the bones found under SE Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor are from at least four Native Americans.

State Historic Preservation Officer Allyson Brooks, who is also the director of the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, said it’s becoming more and more clear that the bones are not isolated cases and may, in fact, represent a Native American graveyard.

“Obviously, you have small burial areas,” Brooks said.

Human remains were found under the road in front of Mike’s Mini Mart last month. After an initial examination by experts from the historic preservation office, it was determined that the bones were from at least three people.

The following week, more bones were found adjacent to the original find. An anthropologist was once again called out. The state agency also shut down all construction activities on the one-way road improvement project.

When work can resume is still unknown. The project is slated to wrap up in September but at present, the city is awaiting approval of a required permit for additional archaeological work through the historic preservation office.

The permit will authorize a city-hired archaeologist to begin hand excavation of the find site. It may also seek to establish whether additional remains are located east and west along SE Pioneer Way, according to Oak Harbor Development Services Director Steve Powers.

“There will be some exploratory work that needs to be done,” said Powers, in an update to the city council Tuesday evening.

Whether the permit will allow construction activities to resume in certain areas or hold off until all archaeological work has been completed is still unclear. Powers confirmed that the permit application was submitted for review on Monday.

He specified that the permit only concerns bones found downtown. Additional remains discovered in soil taken from SE Pioneer Way then dumped at a site on Pit Road will be subject to a separate permit and review process, he said.

“They are in fact two different sites in the state’s eyes,” Powers said.

According to Brooks, the city’s application for the SE Pioneer Way permit was received and the state office has already made comments and forwarded the plan to five Western Washington tribes: the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, the Tulalip Tribes, the Suquamish Tribe and the Snohomish Tribe of Indians.

Per state law, she said they have the right to submit their own comments on the plan. However, the historic preservation office has the final say over the permit. Brooks said she expects their comments sometime next week but that they aren’t due until July 11.

She reaffirmed that the state agency, the tribes, and the city have all agreed to make the permit process a top priority, as everyday the project is delayed puts further strain and financial hardship on downtown businesses. Their welfare is not being overlooked, she said.

“Nobody wants the business owners to suffer,” Brooks said.

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