Oak Harbor's bone costs add up

The discovery of Native American remains on SE Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor will cost taxpayers at least $250,000.

And that’s just to start.

According to city Project Manager Larry Cort, that’s just a ballpark figure of what the public can expect to pay for archaeological and related work downtown. It’s also based on a best case scenario of everything going as planned.

“This is assuming there isn’t a major new discovery,” Cort said. “That could affect the bottom line.”

The number also doesn’t include additional expenses associated with the project contractor nor does it include costs for the Pit Road site. Those costs are still unknown and Cort declined to speculate on what they may be.

“I wish we could hammer it down to at least give people a reasonably reliable number but for this part we just don’t know,” Cort said.

“We want to know as much as anyone else,” he said.

The city’s one-way road project came to a screeching halt in June when the remains of four Native Americans were discovered under the road in front of Mike’s Mini Mart on SE Pioneer Way. Remains were also found in dirt spoils from the project area at a dump site on Pit Road just north of town.

Initially estimated to carry an $8.35 million price tag, the total project budget is currently slated at $7.74 million.

Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik said he wasn’t surprised to hear the latest estimates, saying there is no question the discovery of Native American remains and subsequent project halt will be an unfortunate and expensive cost to bear.

“I’m hoping it won’t break the bank but how can you know?” Slowik said.

The shutdown was the result of an order by the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, the state agency charged with preserving Washington’s irreplaceable historic and cultural resources.

Also a regulatory arm, the agency halted construction and required the city to apply for emergency archaeology permits for both sites. The downtown permit was issued last week and construction in some areas is resuming.

The delay will likely result in additional cost for the city. The project contractor, Bellingham-based Strider Construction, will almost certainly incur expenses associated with remobilization: Removing and bringing back equipment, rescheduling with sub-contractors and reorganizing their work force.

Another major expense, possibly the costliest, will be archaeological work at the second site. While similar work downtown is expected to take four weeks at most, Cort said efforts on Pit Road could take “significantly longer.”

There are at least 90 piles of dirt at the site and experts will have to sift through them all. However, it’s hard to know just how much it will cost because some of the costs downtown don’t apply to the Pit Road site.

On SE Pioneer Way, the $250,000 estimate includes archaeological work, 24-hour security, fencing and other incidental expenses. Security in July alone ran about $26,000 but it’s one expense that won’t transfer to Pit Road.

“It’s seen as being private enough that onsite security isn’t needed,” Cort said.

Although it’s impossible to say now what the final tab will be, the project does appear for the moment to be safe from going into the red, according to Oak Harbor Finance Director Doug Merriman.

“I think we’re OK at the moment,” he said.

Several contracts have come in less than expected, which means the project has a financial buffer of about $850,000. About 95 percent of that is made up of wastewater, stormwater and water utility funding sources while the rest is Real Estate Excise Tax money.

If the unplanned for costs were to exceed the project buffer, Merriman said the city would likely tap into the same three city utility funds. Money might be diverted from future projects or financial reserves for each utility might be utilized.

“They aren’t huge but they are adequate,” he said.

According to Cort, the city should know more about the expenses soon. Strider is expected to have ready a two-week construction schedule that should make clearer any associated costs, though not all. They are also expected to release a new project-completion date.

Finally, the state Office of Historic Preservation approved the Pit Road archaeological permit Thursday afternoon. Conditions outlined in the permit should pave the way for some solid estimates from the city’s archaeological firm, Cort said.


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