SEATTLE (AP) — A Duwamish tribal leader, concerned about plans for a new State Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, is reminding state officials that Foster Island is a sacred burial site.
Officials with the state Department of Transportation, which recently walked away from a $58 million investment when human remains and artifacts were found at a site sacred to another tribe, say they look forward to meeting with the Duwamish.
Some pilings for the current bridge, built in 1963 to link Seattle with Bellevue and other eastern suburbs, rest on the island near the Seattle Arboretum.
The tribe would oppose any new pilings or excavations, said Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the tribal council and great-great grandniece of Chief Seattle, for whom Seattle was named.
"Excavations of any number and of any size violate the sanctity of this sacred Duwamish burial ground," Hansen said in a letter to DOT project director Maureen Sullivan. Hansen said she wants to be included in future discussions about the bridge.
The state is studying proposals for a new 4- or 6-lane floating bridge, some of which call for relocating the span and installing new pilings. The project is expected to cost between $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion.
The Transportation Department's environmental analyses include cultural evaluations of sites such as Foster Island, which as a burial site for Duwamish villages on Lake Union, Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.
"I think this is the first time a tribe has come forward and said the whole island was sacred," Paul Krueger, an environmental manager for the project, said Friday. "We really need to sit down with them and develop a personal relationship. We're taking the whole issue of Foster Island being a burial ground very seriously."
The department is especially cautious after excavations on the Port Angeles waterfront uncovered burial sites and artifacts at the site of Tse-whit-zen, a centuries-old village of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe that was leveled for construction of a sawmill in the 1920s.
The discovery prompted the state to scrap the site, where a facility to build replacement supports for the Hood Canal Bridge had been planned, after an investment of $58 million. The agency hopes to find a nearby location for the $283 million graving yard — with plans to dig deeper during its archaeological assessment.
Hansen said the state had not contacted her 571-member tribe, which signed over the 5,400-acre site of Seattle and is still fighting for federal recognition.
Krueger said state officials will be in touch.
"It's state policy to work with not only federally recognized tribes but also tribes like the Duwamish, tribes working toward federal recognition," he said.
Federal recognition brings legal and financial muscle. The Auburn-based Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, which is recognized, has been in discussions with the state for more than three years about Foster Island.
Tom Speer of Mercer Island, a member of the Duwamish Tribal Services Board, sent a letter to the King County Journal about the significance of the island, known to the tribe as Stitici, or "little island."
"There is little doubt about the nature of Stitici," Speer wrote Friday. "Pioneers knew it was a Duwamish tribal cemetery. Duwamish Tribe members today know that Stitici is a sacred site where their ancestors are buried."
The DOT "needs to create solutions to their SR 520 problem — such as offshore pilings — that do not require despoiling the holy places of the Duwamish Tribe, the First People of Seattle," he wrote.
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