A stop-work order was issued this Monday by the Nez Perce County Commission for the $21 million project to replace Cherrylane Bridge after the discovery of cultural artifacts at the site by the Nez Perce Tribe.

Work on the federally funded project was set to begin next week with widening work on the south side of U.S. Highway 12 to allow vehicles to safely pass the project. The artifacts discovered came from test pits the tribe dug where the widening is planned.

Tribal Cultural Resources Program Director Nakia Williamson didn’t return a call Monday seeking comment on what the digs discovered, the timing of the discoveries or how the issue could be mitigated.

Ceccarelli said county officials only learned of the discoveries last week. She surmised the bad timing came about because the tribe was only recently able to access that particular section of right of way since the county just completed the land purchase from a private owner in February.

All three commissioners expressed their distaste over the development at Monday’s regular meeting.

“I just think it’s a sad state of affairs,” commission Chairman Douglas Havens said, adding that the timing was “almost unbelievable.”

Commissioner Douglas Zenner said the issue made it hard for him to sleep over the last few days. Zenner has the most time invested in the project of any commissioner past or present, with almost two decades of collaboration with several federal, state and local authorities under his belt.

The commissioners don’t yet know the effect of the delay on the cost of the project. But Ceccarelli said that whatever it is, the county will probably be on the hook to cover it since it isn’t directly related to the bridge project. Zenner said the stop-work order was a good way to deal with the issue for now to protect the county and taxpayers. Havens said the delay now raises potential problems with grants and the county’s reputation, but the stop-work order was a show of good faith toward the tribe that the county is willing to help resolve the issue.

Havens, Zenner and Commissioner Don Beck all voted to make the order effective at noon Friday to give the various contractors involved in the project, including general contractor Cascade Bridge of Vancouver, Wash., time to contact their drivers and operators who are heading to the job site.

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