Assistant state archaeologist Gretchen Kaehler is backing away from comments that were widely circulated throughout Point Roberts through Point-Interface.
“Had I known I was addressing 1,000 people instead of one, about a whole community instead of a particular area, I would have responded differently,” Kaehler said.
Local septic system contractor Joel Lantz had written to the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) asking for guidance about archaeology rules. “It seems to me there is a lot of gossip, and possibly misinformation, that circulates around this small community,” he wrote.
Responding to Lantz, Kaehler wrote “In Point Roberts, it appears that everyone is aware that they are living on a large archaeological site. So it would be hard for anyone to state that they did not know and unknowingly dug into a site.”
“For everyday life in Point Roberts, digging a fence post requires a permit and an archaeologist. So does uncovering a septic tank and planting a tree.”
Kaehler said because Lantz’s initial email had specified “in Maple Beach” in the subject line, she was responding only with regards to the Maple Beach area where there is a history of archaeological finds. “We know that people in certain areas know it’s an issue,” she said.
In other parts of Point Roberts, however, there have not been any archaeological issues, so it’s likely property owners can dig away. Kaehler said property owners could contact DAHP if they wanted to know whether their property was an archaeological hot spot. “You can provide evidence you own a property and we can tell you if there is archaeology on your parcel,” she said, referring property owners to a form on their website at www.dahp.wa.gov
Kaelher said under state laws “it is illegal to knowingly dig into, alter etc, an archaeological site without a permit.” The key is the word “knowingly,” she pointed out, and most activities in most areas did not require an archaeologist. “We’ve never gone after anybody for gardening,” she said, though in areas like Maple Beach, identified as an archaeological site for decades, “that’s technically what the law says.”
In addition county regulations require an archaeological assessment for any permitted development within 500 feet of an identified archaeological site. “That’s something that was worked out with the Lummi because it is such a sensitive area,” she said. “We’re a state that has a lot of history and a lot of archaeology.”
Kaehler said she felt badly that many community members had been upset by her comments and she would be glad to come to the community for a town meeting to address property owners’ concerns. “Archaeology doesn’t stop projects. It never has and it never will,” she said. “We just have to figure out a way to make it work and there are all sorts of options.”