Avoiding impacts to Chilkoot Tlingit cultural artifacts buried along the Chilkoot River corridor, the site of a planned road improvement project, and offering consultation to impacted tribes are among the reasons the project is delayed until next year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff said this week.

“As a federal agency, we must ensure the project complies with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Endangered Species Act,” spokeswoman Andrea Medeiros said. “Given the volume of dirt to be moved during this project and potential for disturbance to cultural resources, we required cultural studies be done and mitigation measures to be in place.”

As a result of those studies, an Alaska Department of Natural Resources archaeologist recommended that a monitor be hired to observe the project as it progresses to avoid impacts to Tlingit cultural resources. The project will repave the Chilkoot Lake Road, build bear viewing platforms and pedestrian walkways, and replace culverts.

“We’re concerned that it will disturb the ground,” Fish and Wildlife project grant manager Kyle James said. “Normally these projects are fast. This one is slow because of the amount of dirt to be moved specific to the culvert replacement. (That) might impact cultural resources. A monitor will be required during those ground-disturbing activities so the state will have to enter into an agreement to have a monitor in place and we will have to agree to that and approve it before construction can begin.”

The project is also on hold because Fish and Wildlife is waiting to hear from tribal stakeholders. U.S. Department of Interior standards require Fish and Wildlife to provide tribes a consultation opportunity. James said his office last week sent the Chilkoot Indian Association, the Chilkat Indian Village and the Skagway Traditional Council letters offering such consultation. Upon confirmation of receipt, tribes have 30 days to request such consultation.

“In the meantime, (The Alaska Department of) Fish and Game and State Parks, they’re going to be setting up the monitor,” James said. “Everything could come to a halt if one of the tribes request formal consultation.”

Alaska State Parks Southeast superintendent Preston Kroes said the state has been working with tribes for several years on the project and already planned to hire a monitor. “I’ve recently, in the last five to six months, had multiple meetings with CIA. I really don’t think that, other than this delay to allow them to comment to the federal agency, I don’t think is going to impact anything.”

The Chilkoot corridor was the historical site of a Native village and fish camp. “It is a pretty sensitive area,” Kroes said. “It was a heavily populated Native ancestral grounds.”

Kroes said he’s wary to discuss in detail the artifacts that are buried in the area. It’s illegal to remove artifacts from public land, and Parks staff know of individuals who illegally pilfer the corridor. “There are a few people we’re aware of that go out and actively look from time to time,” Kroes said. “There are a few people that, if we know they are in the area, we tend to perk up and keep an eye on.”

Parks officials last week said staff turnover at Fish and Wildlife, also the project’s funding source, caused the latest delay for the project, which was planned to begin in September. James said the agency’s staff archaeologist retired, and the survey was approved in October.

“Our cultural resources staff reviewed it as quickly and efficiently as they could,” James said.

Chilkoot Indian Association staff did not respond for comments by press time.