Planned widening of 253rd awaits archaeologist's report on burial sites

Although a major road project remains in limbo, it will be a bit longer before anyone knows for sure whether there are tribal and/or pioneer burial sites along a rustic stretch of 253rd Avenue in Hillsboro.

On May 6, a team of technicians from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation came to the site with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and began testing the area for “anomalies” that could signal the resting place for human remains. The technicians wrapped up their work on May 9, but there are no answers HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - While at the road construction site on 253rd Avenue in Hillsboro, archaeologist Shawn Steinmetz, who works with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservations Pendleton-based Cultural Resources Protection Program, shows fourth-grade students from Tobias Elementary School how to use ground-penetrating radar to search for buried human remains.

“They have to now process the data in their office,” explained Bob Sanders, assistant public works director with the city of Hillsboro. “If the GPR indicates ‘anomalies of interest,’ the archaeologists will determine if subsurface explorations are needed to further clarify the anomalies and determine if they are culturally of interest. There is a fair bit of assessment to be done on the field data before the anomalies can be identified for follow-up.”

The city of Hillsboro is waiting for a green light to continue with the planned widening and extending of 253rd Avenue from Northwest Evergreen Parkway to Meek Road. The roadway, currently a gravel road, is in line to be paved and extended to connect 253rd with Meek Road.

The area is being developed due to an increasing demand for industrial land in the area north of Hillsboro, but controversy arose when historians claimed members of the Nez Perce Tribe may have been buried within the construction zone.

Families with ties to the area over the course of several generations claim there used to be a Methodist meeting house in the immediate vicinity of where the road work is planned, and they believe there was a graveyard adjacent to the meeting house. Several Nez Perce children are thought to be buried there.

The archaeologist hired by the city to assist with this project — Mini Sharma-Ogle of SWCA Environmental Consultants, a Portland company — pointed out that even with the most sensitive equipment, it is not easy to determine where people have been buried.

“Especially from that time, when there were no coffins,” she said. “It will take a few days to analyze the results. There are areas where the soil compaction looks different from normal, but sometimes what the anomalies are can only be verified by excavation.”

She explained that a space in the ground, for example, could have been caused by the roots of a fallen tree or by a burial.

Sanders said he believes it will be a couple more weeks before the city will know if more field work is needed at the site.

“The technicians hope to have their results back within a week, and the archaeologist will take another week to study the results,” Sanders explained.

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