Council prepares to deed Semiahmoo wastewater plant to Lummi, addresses noise issues in council chambers

Published on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 by Brandy Kiger

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Ancient tribal burial grounds seem to be the city of Blaine’s nemesis. After a site was inadvertently excavated during construction of a wastewater treatment plant on Semiahmoo  spit in 1999, the council struck an agreement with the Lummi Nation that the property would be deeded to the tribe as soon as it was no longer needed.

That time has come.

“We’ve been working with them for over a year to negotiate the transfer,” city manager Gary Tomsic said. “The negotiations still aren’t completed, but we are going to move forward with the transfer because they want to put the land into trust with the federal government.” Trust land is owned by the federal government for the exclusive benefit of an individual Indian or a tribe, and the Lummi Nation needs the deed in order to apply for trust status. 

“We will continue to jointly operate access to the facility and maintenance in some areas,” Tomsic said. 

The artifacts found at the site included jewelry, tools and weapons of stone, shell and deer antler as well as human bones and bone fragments. Much of it was re-buried in a 2001 ceremony after the tribe had identified the remains. “All the material that was excavated was set aside and left for them to sift through, and the process was overseen by a city-authorized archaeologist,” said public works director Ravyn Whitewolf.

Councilmember Paul Greenough expressed concerns about giving the Lummis a deed before an agreement is reached. “As I recall,” he said, “When these negotiations started the agreement was that the land would be used for cultural or religious purposes. What’s to stop them from building gas stations or condos out there?” 

Tomsic said the deed currently contains no restrictions that would limit the property to only cultural or ceremonial purposes, but it is something that can be added as negotiations progress. “Our intent is not to deed them the property until the agreement is in place,” he said. “Right now, we’re just declaring it surplus property so that we can move forward with the negotiations.”

In other news, the council will be moving forward with improving the acoustic quality of the new council chambers, a problem that has been much talked about. “We’ve been very conservative about spending on this project,” community development director Michael Jones said. “But it’s an issue that’s been brought up a lot. We’ve had a lot of complaints.” The barrel-shaped ceiling of the council chambers makes for an acoustic nightmare, Jones explained. “There are several acoustic nuances we are dealing with. It’s the kind of thing you would read about it in a mystery novel,” he said. “You can stand in one corner of the room and be able to hear someone whisper in the other corner, but overall it’s difficult to hear.” After conferring with a consultant, Jones’ recommendation for council was to  begin by  buying drapes for the banks of windows around the room, since that would provide a fair amount of sound absorbance as well as serve the double duty of blocking the setting sun during council meetings.

“What happens if we want to see the sunset and open the drapes?” council member Clark Cotner asked.

“Well, then you won’t be able to hear anyone,” Jones replied.

Jones said according to the consultant the sound system is working correctly, but it requires council members to speak directly into the microphones for it to be most effective. “It’s as simple as if you turn even slightly to the side that we can’t hear you. They aren’t omnidirectional.” 

The drapes are estimated to cost approximately $10,000, and will be installed in a month, Jones said. “We’re going to hold off on ceiling treatments until we have the drapes in place to see if we need them. A lot of the sound gets lost in the room because of the acoustics, and we’re hoping for dramatic changes.”