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Archaeological work begins in Oak Harbor | Update

Ross Smith (top left), a field group supervisor with Northwest Archaeological Associates, a division of SWCA Environmental Consultants, works with two other experts on an exploratory dig near City Beach Street Tuesday afternoon. He declined to identify them or to be interviewed. SWCA is the firm the city hired to perform archeological work on SE Pioneer Way. - Justin Burnett
Ross Smith (top left), a field group supervisor with Northwest Archaeological Associates, a division of SWCA Environmental Consultants, works with two other experts on an exploratory dig near City Beach Street Tuesday afternoon. He declined to identify them or to be interviewed. SWCA is the firm the city hired to perform archeological work on SE Pioneer Way.
— image credit: Justin Burnett

Archaeological work on SE Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor began in earnest Tuesday.

According to Larry Cort, project manager for the city’s $7.74 million downtown revitalization project, archaeologists arrived Monday to tour the area and begin setting up a base of operations. By the following morning, they were hard at work in locations from City Beach Street to the main dig site in front of Mike’s Mini Mart and Oak Harbor Tavern.

Cort said about 11 specialists from the city’s hired archaeological firm, SWCA Environmental Consultants and its Seattle-based division, Northwest Archaeological Associates, are involved. An expert representing the tribes  along with tribal monitors are also participating.

While many of the specialists could be seen sifting dirt from sections of unpaved sidewalk on the western half of the project, those working on the main site were hidden from view by a fence cloaked in black cloth.

Cort said it was erected out of respect for the tribes.

“We’re dealing with ancestral remains,” Cort said. “For the tribes, it’s a very solemn exercise.”

The remains of four Native Americans were unearthed in June. The one-way road project was shut down for weeks, but limited construction has resumed following the approval of a state approved archaeological permit last week.

So far, Cort said no additional human remains have been uncovered. However, some cultural resources were discovered in exploratory holes at the intersection of City Beach Street and SE Pioneer Way.

“I’m not sure what it was but I know they were bagging a few items,” he said.

As of Thursday, exploratory digging between City Beach and Dock streets was complete but work continues between Dock and Ireland streets. Archaeology inside the enclosure is expected to last for up to four weeks, he said.

Per conditions of the archaeological permit, the city has to probe areas of the project where work has already been completed before additional construction can take place. The city is also required to provide the state and tribes with daily updates on the archaeological work.

Some construction has already begun.

Cort said work on a cap for a retaining wall across from Whidbey Coffee is under way as is the installation of a railing on the south side retaining wall just east of City Beach Street.

More work is expected to begin next week when the project contractor, Bellingham-based Strider Construction, brings in a crew to complete preparations for filling the gaps around curbs and driveways between City Beach Street and China Harbor Restaurant.

 

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