Thursday, January 19, 2017

City Council, January 23rd - Archeology in the Right-of-Way

Council meets on Monday, and it's slim pickin's here. There's only one item of interest.

Current railroads in bold; streetcar and old railroads light
(See also the historic signage at State and Liberty)
The City and the State Historic Preservation Office have negotiated a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Salem and the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to streamline the permitting process for transportation and infrastructure projects within the public right-of-way.
A natural question is, Why? Is there a particular "transportation and infrastructure project" the City has in mind?

You might remember N3B's note on Dr. David Lewis' testimony to Council that McLane Island hadn't been cleared as a potential site of significance for the Grand Ronde/Kalapuya people.

There remain outstanding questions about the Salem River Crossing and its archeological assessment. And it is not difficult to be a little suspicious here.

The Staff Report is altogether too vague on this, alas! It would be nice for the Staff Report to be more direct about the reasons for doing this "streamlining."
Execution of the attached MOU will allow the City to work collaboratively with SHPO to address the inadvertent discovery of historical or archaeological artifacts during the construction of transportation and infrastructure projects in the right of way.

Occasionally during construction, projects in the public right-of-way may inadvertently discover historical, prehistorical and/or archaeological objects that require construction to be delayed until a permit is obtained from SHPO. In accordance with Oregon Revised Statute 390.325, these objects may not be excavated, altered, or removed unless a permit is obtained from SHPO, which can take in excess of 35 days. Objects that are found in the public right-of-way are generally of lower value and consist of fragments from bricks, glass, pipe, concrete, as well as trolley tracks, ties, and rails. Higher value resources such as privies, wells, collections of artifacts, faunal remains, pre-contact archaeological materials and human remains are less likely to be found within the public right-of-way.

City and SHPO staff have agreed on steps that will streamline the permitting process should a construction project in the right-of-way encounter historical and archeological resources. The attached MOU describes the procedures required during planning, design, and construction to mitigate the impact to archaeological sites, and to document previously unidentified resources. The MOU will enable the City to avoid the permitting process for projects that impact lower value archaeological objects; and expedite the process for projects that impact higher value archaeological objects.
At the same time, there have been totally innocent "discoveries."

Oregon Electric Tracks on High Street, 2012 - via Twitter
You might remember the Oregon Electric tracks that were uncovered during work on State and Court Streets in 2012 (and more here). Routine road work will continue to unearth stretches of tracks (see that map above). The Streetcar system, distinct from the Oregon Electric route, is apparently already known to be eligible for a National Register listing.

The Memorandum of Understanding also references some of our historic districts:
The Salem Downtown Historic District, the Court-Chemeketa Historic District, and the Gaiety-Hill/Bush’s Pasture Park Historic Districts are National Register-listed historic districts located within the City of Salem boundaries and could potentially be within the boundaries of a Project covered under this MOU.
But curiously it does not reference the Oregon State Hospital Historic District, which is an area we know will be disturbed soon, and which also had the Asylum Avenue Streetcar running up Center Street.

Asylum Avenue Streetcar and Stop at the Kirkbride Building
(Salem Library Historic Photos, circa 1895)
Maybe all this is nothing and the agreement is totally reasonable, but it seems like an interesting and strange thing to appear just now, and the Staff Report doesn't much explain why it is needed or seems useful. Apparently it's self-evident that "streamlining" would be valuable and the current process is too clunky.

Buried deep within the Memorandum of Agreement is a partial explanation, but stuff like this should be in the Staff Report!
The IDP is to be used for the City’s transportation and infrastructure projects that do not have the potential for deep ground disturbance including, but not limited to, replacing street pavements, sidewalks, curbs, turn lanes, medians, traffic light installations, traffic signal installations, signs, parking meters, other lighting installations, bike paths, and e-vehicle charging stations.

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