Facts show city of Oak Harbor should apologize to many | Sound Off

By Melissa Duffy

What are the facts regarding who knew about the Native American bones downtown? Let’s be clear about facts presented rather than draw opinions based on dramatic headlines.

Thanks to the public disclosure of information provided by the Whidbey News-Times we have some facts:

1. Three people who worked for the city were clearly and directly told in writing that the city should hire an archeologist for the Pioneer Way “Improvement” Project. These people were: Russ Pabarcus, city engineer, Eric Johnstson, city engineer and Ethan Spoo, senior planner.

Based on these facts it appears that these people made a significantly wrong decision by failing to act on multiple letters from both the state and the contracted Pioneer Way consultant explicitly stating that the city needed to both hire an archeologist and notify the tribes before the project began.

2. City senior planner Spoo didn’t pass on (in writing) the necessity to hire an archeologist in his recommendations to Planning Director Steve Powers. There is no written evidence that Powers was “in the know.” Powers’ issuance of a mitigated determination of “non-significance” was based on Spoo’s recommendations.

3. This omission of significant information appears to have been a theme passed down the chain of command. It appears that the city council members were actually not “in the know” or properly informed by the planning or engineering departments since agenda packets didn’t have the letter stating the necessity for an archeologist or that contacting tribes was necessary.

4. Our citizens deserve to be “in the know” regarding why city leaders who manage this Pioneer Way “Improvement” Project and who had been given very specific, direct instructions about how to proceed with archeological requirements for this project, disregarded this, yet contradictorily assured the public that an archeological survey “had been done” for this project. While, in reality, the city planning department had done the opposite ... clearly labeled this project as archeologically “insignificant.” Does anyone besides me find this perplexing?

5. The city’s estimation of “non-significance” that was stamped on this project is actually quite significant. This situation marks a  thoughtlessly exclusionary pattern that entirely negates significance toward the native people that have inhabited the area for thousands of years.

6. It is still not clear from the public release of information: Did the city ever actually do the minimum and notify the tribes about this project before beginning, or did they do so only once the graves were found?

My hope is that our town will learn more in time how to value our native history and rich cultural legacy and learn to form more cooperative relationships with neighboring tribes.

Hopefully, soon there will be forthcoming both further explanation of the mistakes made and an apology to native tribes, local townspeople and merchants. And may we, through this experience, grow wiser as a community.

Melissa Duffy is an Oak Harbor resident active in preserving native plants and other activities.


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