Tribal workers to return to graving yard
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A line of steel pilings and several piles of covered dirt are most of what remains of the would-be state Department of Transportation graving yard in Port Angeles. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- Lower Elwha Klallam tribal members will return to the abandoned graving yard site next week and begin delicately sifting through three conical hills -- 12,000 cubic yards of soil -- for artifacts and remains, tribal Chief Executive Officer Sonya Tetnowski said Tuesday.

The tribe expects to break ground on the 11-acre Marine Drive site in June. It plans to build a cultural center and eventually a museum there.

The 12,000 cubic yards of soil are what's left of the earth that the state Department of Transportation dug up in its $88 million failed effort to build a graving yard to build pontoons and anchors for the Hood Canal Bridge east-half replacement project.

In August 2003, workers began digging up artifacts and remains at the graving yard from what was later identified as the buried remnants of the Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen.

In December 2004, the project was shut down.

Soon, a half-dozen tribal members will start going laboriously through the now-covered soil.

A cubic yard of topsoil equals roughly 1 ton, according to Dan Ghere of Sequim, the facility manager for Blake Sand & Grave.

So workers will sift through about 24 million tons essentially by hand.

Tetnowski made her comments about the tribal members' return to the graving yard in an interview after she and tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles gave the Port Angeles Business Association an update on tribal activities at the association's weekly meeting at Joshua's Restaurant & Lounge.

Cultural Center

While many of the 13,000 artifacts discovered at the village site will be displayed at the museum, some will be at the cultural center, Tetnowski said.

Charles said the tribe has a team working on a concept for the center, being designed by architect Michael Gentry of Port Angeles.

The goal of the center is "to collaborate programs together with the resources we have," Charles said.

That effort may be focused on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, chemical dependency programs, Peninsula College and native crafts and culinary arts to "make it sort of a cultural training center," Charles said.

The public will be able to watch basket weaving, totem carving and other tribal cultural activities, she said.

"We also are really trying to work with our young ones so they understand and know our heritage."

The center also will offer catering, and youth will learn to cook in a state-of-the-art kitchen that will be made available to the public.

"We really are trying to bring together this community," Tetnowski said. "This is an opportunity to do that."

Elwha River Casino

The $4 million casino at 631 Stratton Road west of Port Angeles opened March 28, and already the tribe is thinking about expanding.

On weekends, people too often have to wait to play the 102 electronic bingo-style slot machines, Charles said.

The casino has awarded 15 jackpots totalling more than $1,000.

"A lot of times at 9 o'clock in the morning, I'm surprised to see how many people are down there," Charles said.

The tribe will expand the menu to include fish and chips and fries and is hoping to find someone to make fry bread for sale there, she said.

Removal of Elwha dams

Tribal members are meeting in small committees to identify job resources that will be provided for tribal members and provide "outreach" for native and non-native jobs made available through a National Park Service project to remove two dams on the Elwha River, Charles said.

The removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, the biggest project of its kind in the United States, is intended to restore salmon habitat.

The park service will release bid specifications for the $308 million project next spring, and work will begin by the end of 2011.

The tribe is discussing the widening of Stratton Road on the reservation, the only road in and out of the community.

"Two buses can't pass, let alone cars," Charles said.

Work also is under way on identifying a secondary road.

If Stratton Road is out of commission, "we do not have access out of the reservation," Charles said.

"That is the concern we have."


Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at

Last modified: May 05. 2009 9:42PM
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