Hood Canal controversy reaches critical stage

September 11, 2003

By GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News


HOOD CANAL, Wash. Archaeologists met Thursday to inspect possible Native American remains unearthed at a major construction site at Port Angeles.

If they can't come to some kind of agreement, one of the state's most vital transportation projects could be in jeopardy.

Workers were back at work doing their best to keep the crumbling Hood Canal Bridge floating, but it needs much more than a quick fix.

"It's been out there for 40 years. It's suffered salt and wind and wear and tear and it needs to be replaced, said Linda Mullen, Washington Dept. of Transportation.

The entire $280-million project depends on construction of a dry dock in Port Angeles where crews would construct the giant concrete pontoons and anchors for the new bridge.

KING
The state says it's losing $30,000 each day construction remains on hold.
But the site is idle and has been since last month when workers unearthed what are believed to be remains of Native Americans.

The project was halted under federal law.

"It was a tribal village. Everyone knew that going in," said Chairman Dennis Sullivan, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Leaders of the Lower Elwah Klallam Tribe say they warned the state remains could be buried there and refuse to allow big machinery on a possible ancient burial ground.

Can we stay on site? Do we have to move to another location? Or do we have to shut the project down? These are questions the tribe will answer and if they say no, the state may be left with no site and nowhere to turn and it won't be just the Hood Canal Bridge project at risk.

The state needs the dry dock for the ailing SR 520 bridge and then for repairs to the I-90 floating bridge. In fact, the DOT was depending on the facility for bridge work for decades down the road.

Changing that plan would be costly. The state has already sunk millions into the Port Angeles site and says it's losing $30,000 each day construction remains on hold.

The Department of Transportation told KING 5 News they did make some progress Thursday in talks with the tribe. Archaeological work at the site could begin as soon as next week.

The future of the bridge project depends on what they find.

Note: More than $300,000 worth of aluminum was stolen from three surplus Hood Canal Bridge pontoons. The pontoons have floated in Gamble Bay for 21 years and are to be used in the upcoming renovation work. Thieves removed 97 hatches, ladders and no-trespassing signs - which are made out of aluminum. The hatches were machined to be watertight. One person is in custody and some pieces of the hatch covers have been recovered from metal salvage yards. The theft was discovered Friday when a bridge employee driving along Highway 104 noticed two men putting hatch covers into a truck.

 

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