Tribe settles lawsuits over Port Angeles burial site

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Port Angeles, Washington (AP) 10-07

Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam in Port Angeles, Wash., counts cedar boxes holding tribal ancestors' remains unearthed by work in connection with reconstruction of the Hood Canal Bridge.

AP/Seattle Times Photo by Steve Ringman

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe can soon begin reburying the remains of more than 330 ancestors now that it has settled its lawsuits over the failed Hood Canal Bridge graving yard project in Port Angeles that disrupted the graves.

All the remains will be reburied at the ancestral village of Tse-whit-zen and topped with clean fill, and will be designated a historic cemetery, said Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles.

Charles said that between the permitting process and spiritually preparing for the reburial, it could take up to a year to rebury the remains, though she hopes it’s much sooner. The tribe has kept the remains in handmade cedar boxes at an undisclosed location.

Unde “It’s very important to the tribal community to be able to put them back in their final resting place,” she said during October.

Most details of the agreement of the legal settlement had been reached between the tribe and public agencies more than a year ago, but motions to approve the settlement were signed recently by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch.r the settlement, the state will pay the tribe $2.5 million, of which Charles said they have received half so far. It also agreed to remove leftover materials from partial construction at the building site.

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. Some sheet pilings that could not be removed without seriously disturbing the site were cut off below ground level.

In addition, the state removed 11,000 cubic yards of concrete that would have formed the yard’s floor. Still, thousands of cubic yards of soil needs to be screened for additional remains and artifacts, Charles said.

Port Angeles and the city’s port have collected $7.5 million grants from the state, meant to offset the economic activity lost when the bridge project was moved from the area.

The state also will give the tribe 11 acres at the site, and will lease about six acres to the tribe for a possible site promoting the area’s cultural heritage.

The remains, in addition to thousands of partial remains and artifacts, were unearthed by archaeologists at the site from 2003 to 2005. Before archaeologists finished, they had disinterred 337 complete burials, Charles said.

Most of the artifacts, including spindles, stone bowls and combs, 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.

The ancestral discoveries led to construction being stopped late in 2004 at the yard that was to have built huge concrete anchors and pontoons in a giant onshore dry-dock.

Choosing and then abandoning the Port Angeles site added nearly $87 million to the cost for replacing the eastern half of the floating bridge that links the Olympic Peninsula with the Kitsap Peninsula and the Seattle mainland beyond. The bridge components are now being built in Tacoma and Seattle.

Information from:
Peninsula Daily News,