Tribes go easy on Oak Harbor | Editorial
August 2, 2011 · Updated 1:27 PM
Six Native American tribes met with Oak Harbor officials last week and went easy on them. After several hours of discussion in a closed session, the tribes agreed their interests in the bones found downtown would be represented by a single tribal archeologist and one tribal monitor.
The city will be paying for the time of the tribal representatives, so it got off lucky. If all six tribes had insisted on being represented it could have drained the city’s coffers in a hurry. But as Samish Tribal Chairman Tom Wooten explained, the bones represent all their ancestors. The tribes’ fair and reasonable decision was just part of the good news that lifted the spirits of downtrodden downtown merchants last week.
Also, the state Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation issued a permit to begin exploratory digging along Pioneer Way. The permit is complex, but essentially means that construction work could conceivably resume soon. Mayor Jim Slowik’s “best case” guesstimate is that work could begin next week sometime.
However, it would be wise for downtown merchants to keep a lid on their high hopes. The issue of Native American remains is complex and this week’s exploratory digs could turn up anything. Perhaps the bones of the four Native Americans unearthed in June will be the bulk of the find and other areas contain no remains or artifacts. But if it’s a widespread phenomenon, construction could be further delayed.
The city fouled this project up from the start by not hiring an archeologist before the project began as the state recommended. Everyone should have known bones would likely be found there because it has happened in the past, as recently as 20 years ago. But what is done is done, and there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for merchants who have put up with the dust and confusion of construction since February.
There are still some big unknowns, including the final cost of the budgeted $8.35 million project and the completion date, originally expected in September. Hopes now are that the job will be done before the holiday shopping season. If not, the mayor can expect a stocking full of coal this Christmas.