The Pacific County Public Utility District’s decision to replace aging power poles in an extraordinarily sensitive Chinook Indian cultural site is explainable in only one way: It’s how it’s always been done. Which is to say PUD management moves ahead with utter confidence in its own judgment, without adequate reference to non-utility considerations.
In one way, this is understandable. Considering the weather’s violence in a heavily forested county, the reliability of electrical service is commendable. In return, PUD managers and crews are remarkably well paid by local standards, but most residents don’t begrudge them the money. Few people have skills to run a utility or the bravery and fortitude it takes to maintain power in all hours and conditions.
With full credit for all it does well, the PUD was clumsy and tone deaf in its actions and subsequent explanations concerning the Chinook Middle Village site.
PUD knows the site contains human remains; its personnel were present when they were discovered, most recently finding some during a stalled 2011 effort to bury power lines. The site will soon formally become National Park Service property. The above-ground interpretive exhibits and walkways there were constructed following delicate negotiations with Chinook descendants. All this is public record or can be learned with a phone call.
Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, demonstrating respect for Indian remains is a matter of utmost seriousness. The state of Washington walked away from a Hood Canal bridge project at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars after a 2004 discovery of long-forgotten graves. Some may wish for a different outcome, but most of our region’s residents empathize with our Native American neighbors whose ancestors did not mark graves as we do today. They nevertheless know where their relatives rest and expect them to be left alone. This small consideration is meager enough in light of all they lost when whites arrived.
Middle Village has been identified as the likely summer residence of Chief Comcomly, who greeted Lewis and Clark and went on to play a pivotal roll in the fur trade. Though not a traditional cemetery for the Chinook, it in effect became one as their civilization collapsed with the arrival of European diseases. It is holy ground and a site of potent significance. That the U.S. government doesn’t currently say the Chinook meet every technical legal standard for official tribal status is immaterial. They are our neighbors. We know their history, We know they exist. It isn’t “political correctness” to expect Pacific County PUD to exercise good manners in accordance with this knowledge.
This is the latest strong evidence that when elected Pacific County PUD commissioners move to hire a new general manager upon the retirement of Doug Miller, they must include the public and expand their search beyond current staff. Yes, we want the lights to stay on. But we also expect all public employees to behave as public servants in the 21st century, making a thorough effort to include all stakeholders in making decisions.