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Oak Harbor digs up $200K for archaeology

The Oak Harbor City Council approved $200,000 in contracts for associated archaeological and security work on SE Pioneer Way this week.

In a special meeting Tuesday at City Hall, the council approved a $150,000 contract with a national archaeological firm, SWCA Environmental Consultants, and a $50,000 contract with Port Townsend-based Security Services Northwest, Inc.

The services of both companies have been utilized since June when an excavator working on the city’s downtown road project unearthed Native American remains at 920 SE Pioneer Way,  in front of Mike’s Mini Mart.

The archaeological firm, with its Washington division Northwest Archaeological Associates, was originally hired to monitor construction after the initial discovery. Their duties have since been expanded to fulfill conditions outlined in a state-issued archaeology permit.

Experts with the firm have performed exploratory digs at other locations in the project area, are monitoring construction, and are working within the fenced enclosure at the main dig site.

The state’s permit also requires that the main dig site be watched at all times to ensure that culturally significant resources are not looted.

Under the terms of the contract, the city will pay the security firm $45 an hour to have a  guard on site during evening hours, 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., seven days a week and during day time hours on the weekend.

But while cost elements of both contracts sparked questions from council members during Tuesday’s meeting, the discussion devolved into a political beef with barbs being tossed back and forth among candidates running for council.

According to the city’s audio recording of the meeting, council hopefuls Larry Eaton and Paul Brewer criticized the short notice of the meeting during the public comment period.

Per state law, notice was posted on the city’s website 24 hours before the meeting. However, they said that was insufficient and questioned why it couldn’t have been advertised in the newspaper sooner.

City Councilman Rick Almberg responded by criticizing the candidates in the crowd, saying that participation has increased with the start of election season. He said it would be nice if candidates showed up “when they are not running for office.”

Similarly, Councilman Jim Palmer said he attended council meetings for 14 months before running for office without making campaign speeches and that it’s sad to see it happening now.

Their comments ignited rebukes from Eaton, Brewer and Mel Vance, who is running against Almberg in the November general election. Councilman Jim Campbell also weighed in, saying that running for office does not remove your right to ask questions.

Mayor Jim Slowik wrapped up the issue, saying that the open dialogue that took place during the discussion was the embodiment of free speech.

“Everyone had a chance to say what they felt and express their opinion,” Slowik said. “That is, in fact, freedom of speech.”

Some of the candidates don’t agree, however. Vance has vowed to report the incident to the state Public Disclosure Commission, though what laws, if any, were violated is unclear.

As for the approved contracts, city project manager Larry Cort said in a later interview that additional expenses associated with SE Pioneer Way are being incurred. The contracts do not include the cost of fencing, city employee time, a contract with the tribes for an archaeologist and monitors, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Together, those costs may total an additional  $50,000, he said. Finally, archaeological work at the Pit Road site has yet to be determined.

 

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