Lower Elwha settle lawsuits over graving yard and Tse-whit-zen village
By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News
OLYMPIA, WA - The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe has settled its lawsuits over the failed Hood Canal Bridge graving yard and the ancestral village of Tse-whit-zen.
Motions to approve the settlements were signed Friday by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch.
The action cleared the way for the Lower Elwha to focus on reburying the remains that archaeologists unearthed at the site from 2003 to 2005.
"We're definitely excited about being able to put things behind us and move on for what's important," said Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles.
"We are definitely looking forward to that day when our ancestors can be put back into their final resting places."
Before archaeologists finished, they had disinterred 337 complete burials.
The tribe has kept the remains in handmade cedar boxes in an undisclosed location.
In addition, thousands of partial remains and artifacts were collected, and more are to be sifted from 26,000 cubic yards of earth that is piled at the site.
Tribe stopped construction
The ancestral discoveries led the tribe to stop construction late in 2004 at the yard that was to have built huge concrete anchors and pontoons in a giant onshore dry-dock.
Tse-whit-zen has been called one of the richest finds of ancient Native American objects in the state, perhaps in the Northwest and the nation.
Most of the artifacts have been stored at the University of Washington's Burke Museum, awaiting display at a cultural center the tribe hopes to build at Tse-whit-zen.
Items include spindles, stone bowls, combs, needles, harpoons and other objects common to villages along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.
They span a period from about 500 B.C. to around 1900 A.D., when the Klallam village was razed, said Steve Denton of the Burke Museum.
Further archaeological exploration probably will not occur.
Most of the settlement had been reached among the tribe and public agencies more than a year ago.
Gov. Chris Gregoire visited Port Angeles in August 2006 for a ceremonial signing by Charles, Port Angeles Mayor Karen Rogers and Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Bill Hannan.
Other defendants included:
- The state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and state Historic Preservation Officer Allyson Brooks.
- Douglas MacDonald, former state secretary of transportation.
- Peter Kiewit Sons, Kiewit Pacific Co., and Kiewit General Construction Co., general contractors on the project.
- The Jonathan Shotwell Corp. and Fields Shotwell Corp., owners of the recycling yard where earth was taken early in the excavation.
- Western Shore Heritage Services Inc., which made the original archaeological tests on the site but found nothing of cultural significance.
In a separate action on Sept. 28, the tribe's suit against Larson Anthropological and Archaeological Services Ltd. was dismissed.
The company had made a subsequent archaeological survey of the site in the crook of Ediz Hook but also found nothing of cultural significance.
"The final dismissals allow the tribe to better focus on recovering and reburying the Klallam ancestors," said Gabriel Galanda, the tribe's Seattle attorney.
"Now, newfound friends can get to do what they need to do and get the job done."
Contractors over the summer extracted from the ground the scores of 80-foot sheet steel pilings that had been driven into the site to form the graving yard's walls.
Four sheet pilings could not be removed without seriously disturbing the site, so they were cut off below ground level.
"They had tried their hardest to remove those four in two different locations," Charles said, "but they were unsuccessful."
In addition, the state removed 11,000 cubic yards of concrete that would have formed the yard's floor.
The steel girders that remain on the shoreward portion of the yard belong to the port.
"We were really pleased with how things were conducted," Charles said.
"Everything seemed to go smoothly."
Site may go fallow
All the remains will be reburied at Tse-whit-zen and topped with clean fill, and the site may be allowed to return to a natural state, Charles has said.
It will be designated a historic cemetery.
The cultural center would be built on the Marine Drive section of the property that is thought to contain no remains or artifacts.
"We want to keep on educating and sharing the culture of the Lower Elwha Klallam and the other Native Americans," Charles said.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us to continue."
The state spent at least $87 million on the graving yard that never was put to its stated purpose.
With the work went about 100 family-wage jobs - many of which would have gone to tribal members. The bridge components are being built in Tacoma and Seattle.
The state spent about another $3 million remediating the site.
Also in the settlement signed by Gregoire, the tribe received ownership on the center of Tse-whit-zen, where the burials were found, and a low-cost lease of the Marine Drive frontage where it hopes to build the cultural center.
The Lower Elwha also received $2.5 million to construct the center.
It previously had been paid $3.4 million for legal and archaeological consulting and for reburial.
The city and the port each received $7.5 million for economic development, and the city got another $480,000 to hire an archaeologist.
Charles said the 4½ controversy "has been frustrating for many - ourselves and the community and all the agencies that have been involved.
"It's been a long, long journey and a struggle for everyone."