In an area the Cowlitz Indian Tribe called home for thousands of years sits Mabel Parvi’s retirement nest egg, untouched.
Forty years ago, she and her husband, Gene, purchased 10 acres in Ridgefield for an amount she has long since forgotten, envisioning the seemingly endless brush would provide them financial shelter from lean, senior years. The idea of Native American artifacts being buried below did not cross either of their minds.
Today, Parvi, 87, is widowed, living in a senior home and in fear of going on Medicaid once her money runs out. Her attempts to sell her land have been slowed by the artifacts’ presence, she said.
“Here I am sitting on two pieces of property, and I am still having to go on Medicaid,” Parvi said while sitting inside her apartment at Glenwood Place in Vancouver. “That just doesn’t sound right.”
Archaeological analysis has emerged as a component of many land and home sales since Clark County and the cities within passed ordinances in the late 1990s protect
ing historic sites, real estate agents and appraisers said. The county has around 900 public- and private-owned historic sites, according to Archaeological Investigations Northwest in Portland.
While such sites are fairly prevalent, they have not prevented anyone from selling their property, state officials, Realtors and appraisers agreed.
“Properties with archaeological sites are bought and sold all the time with full knowledge from both parties,” said Gretchen Kaehler with the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Kaehler has worked with Parvi in her attempts to sell her land for three years, even helping get her taxes on the land lowered.
‘Stresses her out’
The trouble, Parvi said, started when she sought to subdivide her land into two 5-acre lots to make more money.
The thought process was why make $400,000 on one 10-acre parcel when you can make $295,000 per 5-acre lots, said Karen Lang, Parvi’s longtime friend and real estate agent.
It was in the mid-2000s, before the housing market crashed. Parvi met with county land use officials, had her property cleared and even went to bids. She later paid $5,000 for an analysis, which revealed she had hundreds of artifacts under her soil.
This led to more money spent on analysis and then delays and then the housing market crash and the recession.
Soon, she was stuck with a tough decision: sell low, very low, or stay put.
Her husband’s Parkinson’s disease forced them to take up residence in the senior home. He died in January 2010, Parvi said, likely unaware of the strife and heartache the land caused her over the past six or seven years.
She set the land’s price low after she received the analysis and the recession lingered. Yet, the offers she received came back lower. They would not have allowed her to stay in her current $2,300-per-month apartment for more than a handful of years, she reasoned. Parvi said she thinks potential buyers’ difficulty in getting loans has also been a factor in her challenges to sell the parcels.
“It stresses her out,” her granddaughter Katelin Lester said of her grandmother’s unresolved attempts to sell the land. “She wishes she could sell it and be done with it. That was supposed to be her retirement, and there’s nothing she can do with it.”
In recent years, Parvi received an offer from the Archaeology Conservancy’s then-office in Sacramento, Calif., that would have netted her around $7,500 per acre. She rejected it, deeming it far too low.
Cory Wilkins, western regional director for Archaeology Conservancy, confirmed the nationally run land-preservation organization had not purchased Parvi’s land, but declined to discuss the details of an offer, citing confidentiality concerns.
Parvi questions the rationale behind leaving artifacts buried in the ground where no one can see them. They should be put in a museum, she said. The sooner that happens the better, she says, so she can sell her land and maintain her standard of living.
“It does not make sense,” she said. “They are just shards for arrowheads. How can they be so valuable?”
To others, the artifacts’ intrinsic value is the story they tell and the history they represent.
“To discard that would be a tragedy,” said Bill Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which has lived in the Ridgefield area for thousands of years.
The idea artifacts are pushing down the value of Parvi’s land is questionable, said Dick Riley of Vancouver-based Riley & Marks Appraisal Firm.
“Would it affect the value? Not necessarily,” Riley said. “It might slow down the selling process.”
It is entirely possible two other factors the recession and the presence of developed properties are driving Parvi’s land price down, Riley said. There are developed properties available on the market. Thus, people are less willing to invest the time and money to build on undeveloped lots, he explained.
The artifacts buried underneath Parvi’s land would not necessarily have to be preserved, Kaehler noted. For instance, an archaeological data recovery survey could be performed. Under such a scenario, archaeologists would analyze data and write a report to maintain information for record keeping.
At day’s end, Parvi will be satisfied with any option a data recovery survey, artifacts moved to a museum, artifacts left undisturbed as long as it means she can sell her land, at a decent price, and be able to touch her retirement savings. Otherwise, she faces uncertainty. Perhaps, she will live off Medicaid in a cheaper retirement facility if the government grants her Medicaid despite her land holdings or live with one of her three granddaughters, as a last resort.
Until then, her retirement nest egg and the artifacts underneath remain inexorably and, for Parvi, frustratingly linked.