San Juan Islands archaeological dig postponed after islanders have their say
The Bureau of Land Management will not allow an archaeological dig at Iceberg Point in the San Juan Islands this summer after officials got an earful from residents concerned about possible impacts to the popular area.
The federal agency announced Wednesday that it needs more time to evaluate the 80 or more substantive comments it received in May on a proposed archaeological field school at the southernmost point of Lopez Island.
For the past four years, Iceberg Point, a coastal hiking spot with sweeping views of Puget Sound, has been part of the San Juan Islands National Monument. The BLM has called it an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” since 1990.
Federal officials awarded a contract to Central Washington University archaeologist Patrick McCutcheon in August to survey Iceberg Point for artifacts.
McCutcheon and up to 25 students would dig 100 or more small test pits scattered across the landscape during the three-week field school.
In May, BLM, a division of the Interior Department, concluded the project would have no significant environmental impact and asked for public input.
The proposal had the support of local tribes.
Critics of the project said students' digging and walking the area in the dry Northwest summer, when island plants and lichens are withered or brittle, could spread weeds and threaten rare species.
Tribes and other supporters said the impacts would be minimal, with a tiny fraction of the area to be dug up.
Surveys of the area for both rare plants and archaeological artifacts are required before any ecological restoration of its shrinking and increasingly weedy meadows can begin.
San Juan Islands National Monument manager Marcia deChadenèdes said in a note to the Lopez Island community that a decision on whether to allow the project at some future date has not been made, but "we have decided to not hold it this summer."
“It’s a great thing to have such an invested community,” she said of the unexpected volume of comments on the proposal.
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