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Archaeologists Dig into Sandpoint's Past

SANDPOINT, IDAHO – Sandpoint has a colorful history, not all of which is highlighted in the town’s historical writings. There are gaps in the story of how Sandpoint got where it is today – across Sand Creek from where it started.

The approval of the Sandpoint bypass has brought archaeologists from all over the Northwest to do some digging around in “old” Sandpoint. According to Bob Betts, archaeologist and owner of Vanguard Research in Sandpoint, projects using federal money or permits where there is reason to believe cultural resources may be impacted require mitigation, thanks to the NationalHistoric Preservation Act of 1966.

“In this case, the highway bypass, a bridge, on-ramps, storm water ponds, and all kind of things,” said Betts. “Because there’s ground disturbance involved, the state archaeologist down in Boise has to take a determination of whether cultural resources will be impacted by the project. If they decide it will be, they have to come up with a mitigation plan, a resource design that’s approved by the state and other agencies involved.”

In 2005, excavation began in Sandpointon the largest project Idaho has ever undertaken for archaeological and cultural resources, what will eventually cost $5 million to $6 million for excavation, analysis and reports –funded through the Federal Highway Administration. Initially, the state anticipated a much smaller mitigation program, until local historians argued that this had been a major townsite and because of the fill protecting it, they expected a lot of discoveries.

“It was very controversial for quite a while,” said Betts. “Finally the state was dragged kicking and screaming, or, should I say, they were eventually convinced into a much more comprehensive archaeological project.”

Bob Weaver, a specialist in historic archaeology, looks over the excavation site along Sand Creek during the latest fieldwork in April.

Last fall the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a water quality permit, a major coup for the continuation of the project.