Another inconvenient truth: Why McGinn is right about seawall

Ignoring the cultural resource issues around Native American burial sites was long a part of development. Learning from that mistake is key to creating a safer Seattle waterfront.
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An archeological dig followed the finding of Native American remains, from the village Tse-whit-zen, during a state Department of Transportation project.

Ignoring the cultural resource issues around Native American burial sites was long a part of development. Learning from that mistake is key to creating a safer Seattle waterfront.

In the past, we have ignored the cultural resource issues and European settlement impacts to Native Americans. You see, it hasn'ꀙt been until recent years that laws have required that, when we construct developments in areas where there is proof of 5,000 years of indigenous human habitation, we must carefully excavate under the eye of an archaeologist. If cultural artifacts or human burial remains are discovered, the project quickly becomes an archaeological dig.

When the World Trade Center Seattle was constructed along the northern portion of the waterfront, human remains from Duwamish Indian Nation burial sites were found and repatriated to the tribe. When the remains were discovered, it was apparent that they were relocated there from previous upland excavations.

The entire Seattle waterfront contained numerous tribal villages with a human habitation that extending back 5,000 years. The Alaskan Way Viaduct, its foundations, its northern tunnel, and all development under the viaduct happen to transverse these indigenous cultural-resource village sites. The existing seawall area, being on the water side of these sites, is less likely to contain cultural artifacts or relocated burial remains from a past of cultural insensitivity.

When the viaduct foundations are removed, a tunnel is dug, or any other significant excavations occur between Western Avenue and Alaskan Way, there is a likelihood artifacts, burial remains, or both will be found. Then, an archaeological dig will begin.

The extent and type of artifacts that exist could potentially be similar to but not as extensive as the Washington State Department of Transportation'ꀙs Ediz Hook discovery when the Hood Canal Bridge was being replaced. It will, at least, necessitate more years of excavation and research. By decoupling the seawall and the viaduct projects, we are addressing the pressing public safety issues, while making time to fully investigate and protect the cultural resources of the Duwamish Nation.

Burial sites are traditionally located in upland areas away from the shore villages. As with the World Trade Center site, what was relocated where and when in the last 100 years is an unknown.

The likelihood of the viaduct foundation removal and a tunnel option becoming an archaeological dig will add significant costs and time to the tunnel-related projects. The time issue is one that we cannot afford to accept if we tie the seawall to the same schedule as the tunnel and viaduct-demolition plans.

Veterans of the many previous waterfront charrettes have had the same briefings by state transportation engineers and access to reams of written material, which explains the critical need to replace the rotten seawall post haste. As of three years ago, tidal waters were just below the surface pavement at the Yesler Way and Alaskan Way intersection.

If we were to lose the rotten, crumbling seawall, tidal waters would inundate the waterfront and breach through street corridors into Western Avenue. The economic impacts of closing down the waterfront, with its critical infrastructure, would have severe implications to a city budget already in crisis in this historic recession. Mayor McGinn'ꀙs proposal is a critical decision that warrants the full support of the city council and the voters of Seattle if, we as a city, are to enact preventive measures averting events of a catastrophic nature.


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