$10 million CRC expense addresses digging on history-rich ground

From the desk of Columbian Staff Writer Tom Vogt:

Dirt cheap?

Not when the soil in question is part of a three-acre archaeological resource. Then you might find a $10 million price tag associated with federal guidelines for managing the parcel.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler was wondering Wednesday about some below-the-radar expenses that are part of the Columbia River Crossing project. Her “What’s-up-with-this?” list included $10 million for a “Curation Facility.”

“The best explanation my office has found for this expenditure is that it refers to the construction of and/or improvements to a museum,” the Camas Republican said in her letter to CRC project director Nancy Boyd.

Actually, there are several heritage ripples involved in building the bridge replacement. The proposed design involves up to three acres on the western end of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Theresa Langford, the National Park Service curator for the site, explained that the acreage includes significant cultural resources, including individual archaeological sites.

Some of those sites likely harbor artifacts that were left behind within the last 190 years or so, starting when the Hudson’s Bay Company established its regional trading headquarters at Fort Vancouver and then yielded the site to the U.S. Army.

But people have been living there a lot longer than that: The site also likely contains artifacts from Northwest tribal populations who were drawn to the site for thousands of years, for the same reason the CRC is being proposed there: The place is just a natural transportation hub.

Federal regulations require mitigation of direct and indirect adverse effects, Langford said in an email to The Columbian. They include a direct taking of land that will remove a portion of the Fort Vancouver Village from federal control and protection, resulting in a loss of visitor access; direct physical damage and destruction of portions of the Village; and the introduction of visual and audible elements associated with project improvements.

Potential mitigation efforts include collecting and documenting “significant archaeological resources” as well as the rehabilitation of a building for a Park Service museum/curation facility, Langford said.

That facility has already been identified in a NPS environmental assessment. It’s the brick structure known as Building 405, in the South Barracks, on the south side of Fifth Street. (It’s the one with the “airplane hanger” sign visible from the land bridge trail.)

Interpretive elements will include exhibits, accessible by the public, on the historic properties that are destroyed or otherwise adversely impacted, Langford said.

According to the NPS environmental assessment, sound walls along the right of way also could be part of mitigating the CRC’s effects on the historic site.

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