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Crews find historic cistern under street; Apartment construction delayed

By Karli Olson

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    VANCOUVER, Washington (KPTV) — Construction crews uncovered a piece of history under a downtown Vancouver street on Wednesday, delaying construction of a new apartment complex.

Crews were digging underneath Fifth Street past Washington Street in order to place a sewer line when they ran right into a cistern – an underground tank to store water – made of red brick and similar to others used at the turn of the 19th century.

The city’s transportation manager Ryan Lopossa said the discovery wasn’t exactly a surprise.

“We find this kind of stuff pretty much any time we start digging very deep in these roads, just a lot of old infrastructure beneath these roads,” Lopossa said. “And not a lot of it was well documented, because it was back a hundred years ago at least.”

The red brick was often used in the city during that era, and city staff believe the cistern was likely connected to one of the old breweries in the area.

As is standard after the discovery, state archeologists were asked to put together a review of the object and construction was paused by a couple of weeks.

Even so, the cistern has already been partially excavated, revealing sand and corroded pipes below.

“Once they’ve worked through the process and got signed off from the state, then they can continue on with the project, finish getting the sewer line put in, get that all covered up, and we can get our road opened up again,” Lopossa said.

Vancouver was founded in 1825 and incorporated in 1857, and though the city has grown up and out, some of its best-kept secrets are found below.

“We’re actually working on a project right now that we’ll start next year to re-do Main Street from Fifth up to 15th,” Lopossa said. “I fully expect that we’re going to find some interesting items when we start digging.”

He said the city also found an underground storage tank beneath a street just a couple of blocks away. Old parts from a former paper mill were found during waterfront development, and trolley tracks have been discovered along upper Main Street.

For the next few weeks, people will need to take a detour around Fifth Street until the documentation process is finished and the new sewer line is put in.

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