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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Winter 2005 arrow Washington: Construction of the Port Angeles Graving Dock
Washington: Construction of the Port Angeles Graving Dock

Agency: Federal Highway Administration
For years, archeologists had known that the buried Indian village and cemetery, Tse-Whit-zen, was in the vicinity of the proposed construction site of the Port Angeles Graving Dock, a dry dock where parts for the Hood Canal Floating Bridge would be made. But archeological testing of the area failed to come up with evidence of the site.

Once construction of the graving dock began, however, artifacts and human remains began to be unearthed in large numbers. Construction proceeded as archeologists and tribal members carried out monitoring, excavation, and recovery of the human remains.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, however, had expected that all of their ancestral remains would be recovered from the National Register-eligible site before construction began.

Aerial view of the Port Angeles Graving Dock site, Washington. Aerial view of the Port Angeles
Graving Dock site, WA
(photo: Washington State DOT)

During the construction of a dry dock in Port Angeles, Washington, by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WA-DOT), human bone fragments and artifacts were uncovered.

The Tse-Whit-zen village site, a historic Klallam village and cemetery, was known to be located somewhere in the vicinity of the proposed construction site, but archeological testing of the area of impact failed to come up with evidence of the village.

Once construction began, however, artifacts and human remains began to be unearthed in large numbers. The quality of preservation and the number of artifacts from the Tse-Whit-zen site make it one of the most significant archaeological properties ever discovered in Washington State. More than 260 complete human burials and 700 partial burials or isolated bones have been recovered from the National Register-eligible site since March 2004.

To archeologists, the site is extremely important for the information it contains about aboriginal occupation of the Olympic Peninsula during the 18th and 19th centuries. To the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who are the descendants of the site’s former occupants, the site is important for its traditional cultural and religious significance.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Army Corps of Engineers, and the tribal descendents of those buried joined WA-DOT in executing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that provided for a massive Data Recovery effort; curation of recovered archeological materials; reburial of disturbed Native American human remains; and monitoring construction at the site.

The original effects determination of “no historic properties affected” was revised to “adverse effect,” and construction proceeded as archeologists and tribal members carried out construction monitoring, archeological excavations, and the recovery of human remains.

But as more and more human remains were uncovered in fall 2004, the tribe began expressing concerns and ultimately objected to the continued construction at the site. The primary conflict revolved around WA-DOT and FHWA’s understanding that there was a vertical limit to their responsibilities and that they would not need to deal with any archeological remains or human burials below the construction zone.

The tribe was of the understanding that all ancestral remains would be recovered from the site before construction began. As the tribe became concerned about the large number of graves being disturbed, it contacted the ACHP and requested that the MOA be amended. The tribe invoked the MOA’s dispute resolution clause that required FHWA to attempt to resolve the dispute, then request the comments of the ACHP.

In November 2004, FHWA requested ACHP comments regarding the dispute. The next month, the ACHP submitted comments to FHWA, recommending that FHWA conduct additional consultation with the tribe and all parties regarding cultural materials and human remains beneath the area of construction impacts.

A week later, WA-DOT announced its decision to stop construction at the site and seek a new location for the graving dock. This measure was to avoid further damage to Native American human remains discovered at the site.

In the meantime, FHWA is consulting with all parties to the MOA to determine how to conclude excavations at the Tse-Whit-zen site, and what additional steps must be taken to close out the project and protect any remaining cultural materials from further damage. In addition, the MOA will need to be amended to reflect these changes.

Staff contact: Carol Legard

Updated March 8, 2005

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