An unanticipated and potentially expensive step could be awaiting those interested in buying and developing some properties in the Husum and BZ Corner area.
That’s what Husum resident Tamara Kaufman and her husband found when they recently attempted to purchase less than an acre on the White Salmon River. In the end, the Kaufmans were unable to do so when they requested a counteroffer to the original sale price after finding out they would have to pay for an archaeological survey before the land could be developed.
“In our case we were offering to pay for the survey, but also asking the seller to reduce the cost,” Kaufman said.
Field Journal Archaeology, Inc., estimated the cultural resource survey for the .73 acre of land the Kaufmans were interested in would cost $7,775 for three days of on-site work, transportation, and lodging, and the cost of drawing up the final survey.
This cost was a shock to Kaufman who had no idea such a survey would be required until she and her husband placed a bid on the property and then heard from the Klickitat County Planning Department.
“We understand and we’re not opposed to it. We just didn’t realize when we were initially looking that it was going to become an issue, so we thought it would be worthwhile to share with the community so people know if they’re going to be looking for land,” Kaufman said.
The need for a cultural resource survey deals primarily with where the Kaufmans wanted to plant their roots. Klickitat County’s ordinance pertaining to the Husum-BZ Planning Area requires a cultural re-source survey “within certain tracts of land alongside the White Salmon River” before any construction can occur. Surveys are also required on land a property owner or buyer wants to develop within 500 feet of an archaeological site.
The land the Kaufmans attempted to purchase fell into the second of those categories as they later found that a neighboring property owned by the federal government was an archaeologically sensitive site.
In order to eventually obtain the building and demolition permits necessary to develop the property into the home they hoped to retire in, the Kaufmans needed to conduct the survey, the findings of which would eventually be under the scrutiny of the Washington State Department of Archaeological and Historic Preservation (DAHP) and the Yakama Nation.
While she said she understands the need for such surveys, Kaufman was also hoping the state of the property would give her some leverage. A dilapidated trailer, a few abandoned outbuildings, a small boat, and piles of trash and discarded furniture litter the property in its current state.
“It’s pretty much guaranteed that they’re going to find something. The question is, when they complete the survey and they review it, given the current state of the property, it’s already built upon, it already has a well and septic and buildings, but it’s in derelict condition, so we’re looking to actually remove all of that and then to put something new on it, will they say ‘OK, we understand there are artifacts on that property,’ but because the property has already been disturbed, already been built upon, would they give us permission to clean it up and build something different?” Kaufman said.
The county ordinance that requires a cultural resource survey stems from a Jan. 17, 2012 settlement between Klickitat County and the Yakama Nation regarding the Husum-BZ Corner Planning Area. In exchange for the Yakama Nation dropping a lawsuit regarding the county planning department’s environmental determination of the area, the guidelines were adopted requiring cultural resource surveys within 500 feet of an archaeological site where land disturbance will occur.
The difficult part of abiding by the ordinance for those looking to purchase property in the Husum-BZ Planning Area is determining where archaeological sites have already been determined. Mo-chi Lindblad, senior planner with Klickitat County, said because of the sensitive nature of information pertaining to archaeological sites, potential buyers or landowners must call the county planning office in order to check with DAHP to determine if a given property falls within 500 feet of an archaeological site before development.
According to the DAHP website there are more than 27,000 archaeological sites throughout Washing-ton and more are discovered every month. Allyson Brooks, state historic preservation officer with the DAHP, said sites where artifacts are found or that are historically significant are protected under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
According to the law, federal or state agencies may withhold information about the location of some sites if disclosing information could “cause a significant invasion of privacy, risk harm to the historic resources, or impede the use of a traditional religious site by practitioners.” Brooks said looting of artifacts can be an issue when an archeologically significant site is found.
The fact that a site has already been disturbed doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t hold historical or cultural importance, according to one archaeologist who did not want to be named for this report.
“Disturbance does not eliminate the opportunity for a site to yield information. There are no pristine archaeological sites anywhere and there always has been some sort of other activity further from archaeological resources. I hear it all the time that there is already disturbance at a site, but that is really irrelevant as to whether or not that site can yield important information,” the archaeologist said.
The archaeologist added that while these sorts of cultural surveys are vital when it comes to preserving sensitive areas, the cost of surveys not only varies, but can also be expensive, especially for a buyer who was not anticipating taking the extra step of negotiating such a survey.
Jeremy Denny, a realtor with Pacific Rim Brokers in White Salmon, was skeptical about the requirement of cultural resource surveys impacting the local economy, but thought otherwise when the land deal he was trying to negotiate with the Kaufmans fell through.
“It may require more fact finding by potential buyers or sellers. There could be some costs associated with it. When it’s starting to shut projects down or not allowing land to be used as it’s currently used or as a residential site then it could start to cause problems,” Denny said.
Despite being unable to obtain the first property she had her heart set on, Kaufman said she and her husband will keep looking for a new place to develop, but she worries that the extra cost and time needed to conduct cultural resource surveys might dissuade other buyers who are looking to settle in Husum or BZ Corner sooner rather than later.
“For us in particular, we’re not in a hurry to build, so it’s OK, but if somebody was coming from out of town and they wanted to build here and they wanted to move in right away it could be a really big hiccup,” Kaufman said.