Oak Harbor to pay tribe $600,0000

Oak Harbor city officials will propose a $600,000  contract with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community next week for work to be performed by spiritual leaders, monitors and handlers at the archaeological site on Pit Road.

The contract will go before the City Council for consideration during their regular monthly meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Mayor Scott Dudley, who will not be at the meeting because he’ll be in Canada donating a kidney, called the contract amount “significant” but said it was a necessary and unavoidable expense.

“It is what it is,” Dudley said. “There is no way around it.”

He did argue that hiring tribal members may actually save the city money as the labor they perform would otherwise have to be done by professionals hired by the city’s contracted archeological firm.

Archaeological efforts on Pit Road began May 1, just one day after the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation issued a permit that green-lighted the project.

It outlined the process required to sift through about 100 piles of soil transported to the site from SE Pioneer Way in 2011. That dirt was moved prior to the discovery of Native American remains between SE Ireland Street and SE Ilwaco Alley that June.

The permit also allows for similar efforts at four arterial sites that also received soil from the road project. They are located on one city-owned property and three private residences.

All of the work will be performed by Equinox Research and Consulting International, a Concrete-based cultural resource and management firm. Earlier this year, company President Kelly Bush told the council the work could take up to 32 weeks and cost between $1.2 and $2.2 million.

Larry Cort, Oak Harbor’s Pioneer Way project manager, said the firm’s efforts have been broken into three phases –- the first was the permitting process with the state –- and the total cost of the project should be better known at the end of phase 2, which is the first eight weeks of fieldwork.

By then, Equinox officials should have a much clearer picture of what they are dealing with: the extent of remains, the type of equipment and recovery methods needed, and the time it will take to complete the job.

The remainder, including work at the four arterial sites, will make up phase 3.

Cort said Equinox’s estimates do not include the $600,000 contract with the Swinomish, which is nearly identical in duties to the $160,000 contract the city council approved last year for work on Pioneer Way.

The agreements provide reimbursement for spiritual leaders, handlers and monitors, benefits and indirect costs, such as mileage and archival and funerary boxes, according to next week’s agenda packet. The difference in cost is attributed to the much longer period of fieldwork.

Cort said the total cost of finding Native American remains on just SE Pioneer Way has rounded out at about $981,000. That’s the combined expense 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.

If the Pit Road costs come out on the high end of Equinox’s estimates, $2.2 million, the combined expense of Pioneer Way and the latest contract with the Swinomish would rein in at about $3.8 million.

But the total price tag at the end of the day could be even more. According to Dudley, the city is also looking at purchasing property for the reinterment of Native American remains. He estimated those costs at about $80,000.

Dudley said he didn’t know how much has been spent on the Pioneer Way road project so far, but believes the tab has already surpassed the $8.35 million budget.

Despite the high expense of the project, he said he didn’t expect the council to have any hiccups over the Swinomish’s contract next week. Finding Native American remains has been expensive and this is just one more thing that needs to be done.

“Is it significant? Yes,” Dudley said. “Is it necessary? Absolutely.”


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