Birch Bay water and sewer officials discuss found archeological material

Published on Tue, Nov 1, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Here's an early version of a story about how the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District is planning to handle archeological material found during s sewer line replacement in Birch Bay State Park. I'm hoping to get some input from the Lummi Nation.

Twenty boxes of archeological material sit with a private archeologist hired by the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) as district officials decide what to do with the artifacts found during a major sewer line replacement through Birch Bay State Park.

District assistant manager Dan Eisses said the material was found during a 2010 project that is in the process of replacing roughly 9,000 feet of pipe running under the state park. The pipe is the main feed for sewage running to the district’s water treatment plant just south of the park. District crews had laid about 90 percent of the pipe before the material was found.

Eisses came to the district board commissioners at their October 27 meeting with a plan to hand over the material to either the Burke Museum at the University of Washington or Western Washington University’s (WWU) archeology department. Eisses said the Burke Museum would charge the district $30,000 to take care of the material while WWU would charge $15,000. Approximately $10,000 would have to be added to either amount for additional consulting work.

The boxes contain shell midden, which is the discarded shellfish shells left by an area’s native people; in this case, the Lummi and Nooksack tribes. Washington state archeological regulations dictate that dirt surrounding shell midden is also archeologically significant and must be stored with the midden itself.

“Most of the stuff [in the boxes] would be very boring to look at,” Eisses said.

WWU is listed as the preferred university to curate the material in the archeological permit necessary to excavate in the state park, Eisses said. Not only is WWU cheaper, but WWU holds the archeological material found when the pipe underneath the state park was originally placed in the 1970s.

Citing concerns with the $25,000 price tag, district commissioner Carl Reichhardt asked Eisses if the district could simply hold on to the material and not give it to a university. Reichhardt originally asked if the material could be reburied, but Eisses said the district’s permit would not allow that because the excavation process has disturbed the material’s natural condition.

“It’s  not really costing us anything to hold onto it,” Reichhardt said.

Eisses said the only downside to keeping the material would be possible future liability. That is, the district would be responsible if, in years to come, an archeologist came to the district looking for the material and the district did not have it. Eisses was not sure what penalties, of any, could be levied against the district if it lost possession of the material.

Eisses said he needs to review the permits again to see if the district agreed to go above and beyond simply holding onto the material.  He said he will come back to the commissioners at the next board meeting with information on what it would take to possible alter the permit so the district does not have to pay to have the material taken away.


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