The contractor hired by the Wrangell Borough for survey and design work of the former Institute property has signed up a subcontractor to advise on historical and archaeological ground searches, which are required before the borough can move ahead with permitting for residential development of the 134-acre site.

Interim Borough Manager Jeff Good, and Trevor Sande, principal at Ketchikan-based R&M Engineering, which is doing the survey work, have met with representatives of the State Historic Preservation Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the expected requirements for the archaeological survey. The borough needs to meet cultural requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, according to a Dec. 14 report to the borough assembly by Carol Rushmore, zoning administrator.

Work is being coordinated with SHPO and the Army Corps.

R&M subcontracted the archeological work to True North Sustainable Development Solutions out of Wasilla.

“We don’t have historical architects or archeologists on the R&M staff so I reached out to several firms that were recommended,” Sande said.

Robert Meinhardt, president and principal consultant of TNSDS, said he is putting together a work plan, weather permitting, to inspect the site, with work likely to start in the spring. When it does, he will send two of his employees, Walker Burgett, a forensic archeologist and Tiffany Curtis, a historical archeologist, to Wrangell to conduct the work, which will likely take a week, Meinhardt said.  

Until then, TNSDS will continue its background review, which consists of research on the area, with a focus on the former Wrangell Institute property.

An Army Corps of Engineers permit for wetland fill to develop the property for residential use is on hold until the issues surrounding cultural resources or artifacts are resolved. The borough has owned the land since 1996.

Borough staff also has met with the Wrangell Cooperative Association to review the survey work at the site of the former Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school.

“They basically wanted to make sure the tribe was involved in the process,” said Esther Reese, tribal administrator for WCA. “We're still early on (in the process). They’re going to be putting out an archeological survey, obtain advice for inspecting the terrain, and we’re waiting on guidelines for that and from the Department of the Interior.”

Reese said the tribe communicated to the borough that it just wants to be involved in the process.

“Early on, when they were going to be turning the area into residential lots, they asked WCA for advice on naming,” she said. “The area had already been named.”

The site is called Keishangita.'aan in Tlingit, meaning Alder Top Village.

The Army Corps of Engineers likely will require, at a minimum, a survey of where the roads would go within the area and the area where searchers will look for human remains, what the borough referred to as a “high probability area.” The State Historic Preservation Office, however, is interested in looking at the entire development site, but “what their requirements will be — the type of survey is still to be determined,” Rushmore wrote.

In order to continue moving forward on the survey project, the borough modified the scope of work for R&M Engineering to assist with the archaeological services, still within the original cost proposal — which will save several months if the borough were instead to issue a request for proposals.

“Utilizing our existing contractor R&M Engineering, they can sub the archaeological work for the preliminary assessment and road survey to help determine high probability and development of a more detailed survey plan of work based on the initial assessment,” Rushmore wrote.

Once the initial assessment is completed, additional work may be required by SHPO and the Army Corps, and a budget amendment for additional archaeological work, ground-penetrating radar or use of cadaver dogs may be necessary. There will also likely be a future budget amendment to complete the survey and platting work that has been put on hold until an Army Corps permit is obtained.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has undertaken a records search of former American Indian and Alaska Native boarding schools, with a report due by April 1, 2022, as it responds to concerns of unreported gravesites.

“Staff is in contact with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) liaison for Alaska properties. At this time, no federal funds are available for on the ground assessment work,” Rushmore wrote.