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Watermain work done but sifting continues

Archeologists from Golder Associates sift through dirt from excavation work on 8th Street in front of New Westminster secondary school on Saturday. Installation of a new pipe beneath the street resumed on Saturday after being stopped because of concerns that human remains might be disturbed on the site that once was a cemetery. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Archeologists from Golder Associates sift through dirt from excavation work on 8th Street in front of New Westminster secondary school on Saturday. Installation of a new pipe beneath the street resumed on Saturday after being stopped because of concerns that human remains might be disturbed on the site that once was a cemetery.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

No bones — or anything of historical significance — was found when work crews completed a watermain project along Eighth Street Saturday.

But advocacy groups say they’re going to be vigilant in coming months because the level of transparency of work crews was unsatisfactory.

The work had been held up for more than two months, pending a permit from the provincial archaeology branch because it was impacting a part of the New Westminster secondary site that had once been a cemetery.

Several piles of dirt dug up more than two months ago as part of the project, however, must still be sifted.

In the early fall, the city installed a watermain on the west side of Eighth Street. But they weren’t able to make the connection to the east side fire hydrants and NWSS because the school district’s environmental consultants told the city an archaeological branch permit was required.

That’s because the school was built in the late 1940s on the site of a cemetery containing the remains of people from various walks of life including natives, Chinese, indigent and former Woodlands school residents.

After finally obtaining the permit, the city scheduled completion of the work for Saturday because the school’s water system needed to be shut down to make the connection.

“There were no items of historical significance found during the watermain work,” said city engineer Jim Lowrie.

When the work was originally stopped several piles of dirt already dug up were set aside in the corner of a NWSS parking lot. Although the watermain work was filled back in, only one pile was sifted on Saturday and crews were due back Tuesday to begin sifting through the others with the work expected to be finished by Friday, said school project manager Jim Alkins.

Faith Bodnar, executive director of the B.C. Association for Community Living, plans to continue to monitor the process because she felt Saturday’s work did not inspire confidence the work was being done in a transparent manner.

“There was not a culture of openness,” said Bodnar. “It was not an environment that was conducive to getting information.”

She said although some of her questions were answered the responses were often vague or shed little light on what she was asking. She said those doing the sifting put several samples into backpacks but weren’t saying what was going to be done with them.

“It’s just symptomatic of the lack of transparency, and I don’t understand why,” said Bodnar. “I’m assuming they know what they’re looking for. Nobody explained what they were looking for. They were taking pieces out and they weren’t saying what it was … We’re not going to quit [monitoring] until we get some openness and transparency.”

She noted the sifters were about 24 inches by 10 inches, which concerned Bill Chu of Canadians for Reconciliation Society, who also witnessed Saturday’s activities. He said considering it took a day to sift through one small pile, the process will be long and expensive.

“This is an exercise in futility unfortunately. The kind of dollars being spent on this thing just that day, you’re looking at 10 grand for just that one day. I don’t know how taxpayers in New Westminster can stand for this thing,” said Chu. “The kind of excavation on Saturday was minuscule compared to what they’re about to do. But they make it sound like they’ve got all the money in the world to do that.”

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