Wastewater project crew uncovers human remains

Published on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The discovery of Native American remains has necessitated another contract amendment for the Semiahmoo wastewater project.

The $121,000 amendment, approved at the June 11 Blaine City Council meeting, is the fourth to Bellingham-based Wilson Engineering’s contract governing their management of the west Blaine wastewater conveyance project. Once completed, the wastewater project will transfer all the wastewater currently being fed to the aging Semiahmoo treatment plant to the new facility at the end of Marine Drive via sewer lines under Drayton Harbor.

A big chunk of the most recent amendment covered Wilson Engineering’s costs in engaging Drayton Archaeological Research (DAR) longer than expected after human remains were found on the site in March. DAR charged Wilson Engineering $33,990 for its services; costs that were then passed on to the city.

“Costs have increased due to the inadvertent discovery of archaeological deposits requiring sampling and analysis, consultation regarding areas of the plan not previously budgeted, as well as the unfortunate encounter of a human burial,” DAR’s Garth Baldwin wrote in an April 3 letter to Michael Matthes, the principal engineer for Wilson Engineering.

At the June 11 council meeting, Blaine Public Works director Ravyn Whitewolf said all work stopped for 10 days while DAR worked with representatives of the Lummi Nation to determine the best way to handle the remains. Crews were able to design around the remains so as not to disturb them any further, and Whitewolf said DAR worked hand-in-hand with the Lummi tribe the entire way. Lummi representatives held a ceremony for the exposed remains and were able to leave them in their original resting place.

“This could be construed as a way to do it right,” Whitewolf said.

Once the project is finished, the city will deed much of the land on which the old wastewater treatment plant sits to the Lummi Nation, assistant Blaine public works director Bull Bullock said. The city will keep a small presence on the property to maintain the outfall that flows into Semiahmoo Bay.

The city halted planned expansion of the Semiahmoo wastewater treatment plant in 1999 after an extensive burial ground was uncovered during preliminary construction. The original archeologist on the project removed some of the remains from the site, resulting in a lawsuit and an eventual $4.25 million settlement with the Lummi Nation.

The ongoing wastewater conveyance project was supposed to wrap up by the beginning of 2012, but delays in materials delivery, a broken test sewer pipe and, most recently, the discovery of human remains have pushed the finish date to the end of June, Bullock said. Blaine City Council members had also approved a $16,600 amendment to Wilson Engineering’s contract in February to reflect the additional construction time needed on the project.

With the most recent amendment’s approval, the city’s costs with Wilson Engineering have increased 84 percent since the contract was originally signed on July 19 last year. The original contract was for $196,351, while the new total will be $362,514.

The city has a $1.7 million contract with Boss Construction for completion of the wastewater project. Delays have increased Boss Construction’s contract with the city by about $200,000, or approximately 13 percent.

Public works staff secured a multimillion dollar rural development loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the entire wastewater project, and the grant has been able to cover all contract amendments for the project so far, Whitewolf said. Taxpayer funds will still go toward the project, but no more than what was originally budgeted, Whitewolf explained.