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State archaeologist to visit pipeline site where tribe says sacred sites were destroyed

BISMARCK - North Dakota's Historic Preservation Office plans to look into whether bulldozers clearing a path last Saturday for the Dakota Access Pipeline destroyed burial grounds and other sacred sites identified the day before in a court filing ...

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The site of the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK - North Dakota's Historic Preservation Office plans to look into whether bulldozers clearing a path last Saturday for the Dakota Access Pipeline destroyed burial grounds and other sacred sites identified the day before in a court filing by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, an official said Wednesday.

"We're currently evaluating the situation and intend to visit when arrangements are made," Chief Archaeologist Paul Picha told Forum News Service.

The State Historic Preservation Office issued a "no significant sites affected" determination in February on the North Dakota segment of the pipeline, concurring with the findings of three cultural resource consulting firms hired by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, the developer of the four-state, 1,172-mile project.

Picha said he and a fellow SHPO staff member participated in a walk-through of the pipeline route on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land east and west of the pipeline's proposed Missouri River crossing because the state office would be assisting the federal review. But they didn't walk the two-mile stretch of the route west of Highway 1806 before it was dug up Saturday, he said.

When asked if he believes there were any burial or prayer sites in that area, Picha said, "I can't answer that 100 percent," but he noted none were identified by the consultants, who must meet federal standards for archeological reviews.

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"Our feeling is that due diligence under existing regulatory law and regulation was done," he said.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said the out-of-state consultants lacked the understanding and training to identify the sacred sites, which former tribal historical preservation officer Tim Mentz found to include burials, stone rings, effigies and other features during a survey last week.

"They don't know what they're looking for," he said. "We have to look at it. And we found it."

The tribe relayed its findings in a court filing Friday in its lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, which it claims didn't properly consult the tribe before permitting the Missouri River crossing less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The next day, Dakota Access crews graded the 2 miles of pipeline route west of Highway 1806, leading to a clash between protesters who stormed onto the construction site and private security personnel armed with guard dogs and pepper spray.

Archambault said he believes the company intentionally dug up the site because it knew the tribe was going to report its findings to the SHPO, which would temporarily stop construction while the office investigated.

"They worked on Saturday just to destroy the area where we discovered the sites," he said.

But Dakota Access said in court filings that work was always planned for Saturday and that it had altered its construction schedule weeks ago to complete the grading on that portion of right-of-way because law enforcement "specifically expressed concern about a large Native American gathering" for the United Tribes Technical College International Powwow, which starts Friday in Bismarck.

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By grading the area before the powwow, "it would avoid alarming the gathering while in session," the company stated. The company also said it didn't destroy any evidence or important historical sites, and it questioned the veracity of Mentz's declaration, claiming that six of the sites he identified are directly over the existing Northern Border natural gas pipeline that parallels the Dakota Access route "and could not possibly be original artifacts."

Members of the state's Public Service Commission also defended their review of the project during their regular meeting Wednesday. When completed, the mostly 30-inch pipeline will start near Stanley and cross South Dakota and Iowa on its way to Patoka, Ill. The company hopes to have it in service by the end of this year.

Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said the siting permit includes an "unanticipated discovery plan" that requires Dakota Access to stop construction and contact the PSC and SHPO if it uncovers a possible grave or other significant site.

"Now, could the company violate that? They could. And if that's the case, that's a serious violation and we will take that up and we will be serious in some enforcement action on that," she said. "But those sorts of occurrences have not happened yet on this line, and we will definitely deal with them if they do." The PSC can fine a company up to $10,000 per violation, per day, for up to $200,000.

Fedorchak noted the PSC also contracts with third-party construction inspectors, and it charged Dakota Access an additional $100,000 fee to oversee construction of what will be the largest crude oil pipeline out of the Bakken oilfield, initially carrying up to 450,000 barrels per day with a capacity of 570,000 barrels per day. But there were no third-party inspectors on site Saturday, PSC staff said.

Commissioner Brian Kalk said the commission had not received any complaints from the tribe. Archambault said a letter will be sent soon to the SHPO.

Commissioners highlighted that more than 500 cultural resources identified along the site were addressed through reroutes, mitigation or other measures, and that the tribe had ample opportunity to weigh in at public hearings and through consultations with the company that began in September 2014.

"If something's been missed or there's additional assurances that can be made, then let's do that and move forward peacefully in a productive manner before kids or moms or security guards or anybody else is hurt or, God forbid, killed in this protest," Fedorchak said.

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Archambault said the company and Corps didn't allow for meaningful consultation and the meeting notices were inadequate in tribal publications.

"What we're saying is we should have avoided it all along, all together," he said.

Related Topics: DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE
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