Pit Road bone search could top $2 million

State officials look at the Pit Road site last year shortly after Native American remains were found on Pioneer Way. - File photo
State officials look at the Pit Road site last year shortly after Native American remains were found on Pioneer Way.
— image credit: File photo

The long awaited cost estimates for archeology on Pit Road are in and the job could top $2.2 million, according to a firm hired this week to perform the initial phase of work.

The city council approved a $30,000 contract Tuesday with Equinox Research and Consulting International, a Concrete-based cultural resource and management firm. The company will spend the next four weeks completing necessary permitting, planning and consultation for the project.

According to estimates provided by the firm, later phases of work could range between more than $2.2 million, a worst case scenario based on several unknown variables, and about $1 million.

“That’s if everything goes well,” Mayor Scott Dudley said.

The later number is about the same amount that’s been spent on SE Pioneer Way since Native American remains were discovered this past June during the street’s renovation into an eastbound one-way.

That’s the combined cost of archaeological efforts, permitting and miscellaneous expenses, as well as monetary penalties from the project contractor, Strider Construction, due to delays associated with the find.

The latest estimates from Equinox are for recovery efforts on Pit Road, which was used as a dirt dumping site for the Pioneer Way project and has also been found to contain human remains, along with four other smaller outlier sites.

For some council members, the numbers were not only frightening but a little hard to swallow.

“Choke and gulp real hard was my reaction,” Councilman Jim Campbell said.

Although he had no prior expectations about how much the project would cost, he said the numbers were “pretty scary.” He said he’s concerned about the wide range of the two estimates and that he won’t support any contract until the numbers are more refined.

“You can’t work with a $1 million spread,” Campbell said.

In a presentation to the council Tuesday, Kelly Bush, president for Equinox, said a firmer number was elusive due to a wide range of unknowns, all of which relate to conditions that may be attached to the permit.

Before work can begin, the city must acquire a permit from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The agency has the power to tack on requirements that would increase the overall project cost.

They range from increased analysis requirements and a prohibition of machines on site to possible increases in the archaeologist/tribal specialist ratio and additional data management requirements.

At the very least, the company is expecting to process up to 2,400 yards of material and perform 32 weeks of fieldwork with a crew of 20 people.

Councilman Rick Almberg, who has been particularly vocal about budgetary concerns in recent months, said Equinox’s estimates are worrisome. They will almost certainly push the project over budget.

“It’s a good thing we built that thing when construction costs were low,” said Almberg, in an interview Thursday.

The total amount spent so far on the $8.35 million budgeted project is unclear, but project officials estimate it’s between $7.5 and $7.8 million.

However, Almberg said during Tuesday’s council meeting and in a later interview that these new expenses, combined with what’s already been spent, would probably equal what would have been spent had the city incorporated archaeological efforts from the beginning.

City officials knew a Native American site was nearby and had been advised by the state’s Historic Preservation office to take precautions long before construction began. However, those warnings were not followed and the bones were found mid-project and only after about 100 truck loads of dirt had been hauled to Pit Road.

Had all the recommendations been followed, Almberg claimed it likely would have made the Pioneer Way renovation a two-year enterprise and jacked up the total project cost so much that it would mirror what will have to be spent today.

“I’m convinced it would have been about the same,” Almberg said.

Others are less certain.

Dudley, who constantly fought the project as a councilman, said he believes some human remains could have been left undisturbed and those that were accidentally unearthed would have been spotted before they were trucked to another location. The costs would not have been comparable, he said.

“No, I don’t believe that for an instant,” Dudley said.

Whatever the case, Doug Merriman, finance director for the city, said the majority of the Pit Road costs will come from utility funds. Remaining sources have yet to be determined, and an adjustment to the 2012 budget will likely be required.

If the costs are on the low end, $1 million, Merriman said he believed the utility funds have enough to cover the tab. But, if it’s on the high end, more than $2.2 million, the city council will need to look at other options.

“There would probably need to be some type of rate adjustment to make up that difference,” Merriman said.


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