Obstacles delay Strawberry Plant Park work

After unearthing Native American remains, contaminated soil and masses of concrete the city has acquired additional grant funds to keep the Strawberry Plant Park shoreline restoration project rolling.

The goal of the work, which will continue work through the end of the year, is to restore the shoreline and beach habitat on a site that was once a berry cannery and commercial center.

The restoration work is largely funded through a combination of grants from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the National Resource Damage Assessment through the Trustee Council.

The plan to remove the waterfront meadows, parking area and two-thirds of an acre of shoreline has been unpopular among community members who didn’t want to see waterfront access removed from a public park.

The restoration project has been delayed for at least a month and will cost an additional $120,850. The city was granted an additional $181,539 from the Trustee Council to cover the costs. The revised contract for the project now totals $969,424, which is a 12.5 percent increase from the original contract amount. The total budget overage is yet to be determined as work continues at the site.

Chris Wierzbicki, deputy director for the city planning department, said the complications were bigger than expected and quickly added up to costs well above the original budget.

The city accrued some $78,855 just for concrete removal and disposal after finding three to four feet of concrete beneath the four inches of asphalt in the shoreline area.

There was a temporary road block after the discovery of a Native American “midden” site. A midden site is a mound or deposit containing shells or other refuse and indicates human settlement. The city has been working with the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, the Suquamish Tribe and other archaeologists to ensure the site is properly protected.

“We discovered the site in the process of regrading the shoreline,” Wierzbicki said. “Our archeologist worked with the State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation to document, analyze and determine the extent of the midden.”

The site is protected by state law and its exact location hasn’t been revealed in order to protect the artifacts from future disturbance, according to Dennis Lewarch, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Suquamish Tribe who worked on the project.

“We had a plan in place in case we discovered a site so it had very little effect on the restoration project. The way archeologists preserve things now is to preserve them in place. We don’t like to excavate sites,” said Lewarch. “We will acknowledge the site down the road and we might have some historic information because we know the Suquamish people used that area thousands of years ago.”

Restoration work continued while the experts worked on the site, which is now covered and protected.

Strawberry Plant Park has deep community ties and a history that many people have fought to preserve over the years. The restoration project faced heavy criticism from those who thought the city was misusing the original purpose of the site.

The city obtained the property in 2005 from a developer via a transfer of about five acres of land located east of State Route 305 that was willed to the city by John Nelson for use as a public park. But many residents weren’t pleased with the city’s plan for the park’s future.

Erik Lund, the nephew of Nelson, said he didn’t think the plans for the new park resonated with what he was originally told and the Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District Board of Commissioners formally disapproved of the city’s plan in June 2010. Some community members felt the city didn’t consult enough public opinion.

The park district is expected to develop the park’s upland portion once the shoreline restoration is complete

Gerry Elfendahl, an island historian, said he wasn’t surprised the city ran into so many problems.

“All of those problems were things we predicted they would find based on the history of the site,” said Elfendahl. “We openly shared all of those complications with just about anyone who would listen.”

Wierzbicki said the delay won’t cause any disturbances or work to be done during the fish closure months, but additional work at Strawberry Park may occur next spring.

The city currently has more money than it needs from the granting agencies, he said, but that could change as work continues.

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