An official walk-through Thursday of the Dakota Access Pipeline route where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe identified sacred sites will clarify whether the pipeline company can proceed with construction.
Energy Transfer Partners, pipeline owner, was seeking additional assurance whether any part of the 1.35 miles falls under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdiction, according to Eileen Williamson, corps spokeswoman.
Williamson said the walk-through with state and tribal officials and archaeologists resulted in an agency report that will be reviewed with no timeline attached, she said.
The area is west of Highway 1806, where former tribal historian Tim Mentz said he identified 82 stone features and several burials and very near where Standing Rock Sioux and hundreds of supporters are occupying active protest encampments in an effort to stop the pipeline. It has been a no-construction zone since Sept. 3, when the pipeline construction crew started stripping topsoil in the identified area, causing a clash between anti-pipeline protesters and private security officers with dogs.
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Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said he went on the walk-through because it was going to happen “with or without us.”
He said it was disheartening in several respects.
“Tim Mentz was not allowed on the property by the company and was not allowed to defend what he found there,” said Archambault, who added he was also disheartened because the walk-through revealed bone fragments near a stone ring feature that Mentz had identified. He said the bone was found in the dirt berm pushed up when the top soil was stripped.
Paul Picha, the state's archeologist, said the bone was immediately examined by the state forensic examiner and was identified as an old carpal bone of a large mammal, possibly a bison, horse or cow. He said the bone fragments fall in line with other large and small animal bones he found after walking the route ater the Sept. 3 incident. None of it alters his agency’s archaeological clearance, though DAPL agreed to screen the soil in the bone location in case of any other findings, he said.
“Primarily, we were there to be part of the communication so that everybody could look at that stretch of ground together,” Picha said.
Archambault said that’s not enough.
“They can make a determination to stop any construction and do a full-blown investigation. The berm needs to be pulled back and not just say it’s a nonchalant walk-through and keep going,” Archambault said. “We still have archaeological concerns.”
DAPL did not say when it plans to renew construction there and did not respond to an email to that effect. The area along Highway 1806 has been a hot zone for protests and arrests ever since the anti-pipeline movement started in mid-August.
The company is not under any court order or barrier against construction. However, it does not have an easement from the corps to go to the far end of the pipeline route and stage a drill bore to cross the pipeline under the Missouri River/Lake Oahe.
Dakota Access purchased the entire property, including the walk-through area, in late September from owner David Meyer. The company is under a 30-day deadline from the State Attorney General’s office to explain why the 6,000-acre purchase does not violate the state’s anti-corporate farming law. That deadline expires by Oct. 27 and office spokeswoman Liz Brocker said the company had not yet replied as of Friday. Non-compliance with the law could put the company in court with the state.
The corps, along with the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior asked DAPL to voluntarily stop any construction for 20 miles both sides of the water crossing while the corps reviews its decisions related to the easement. The company said it intends to proceed, though it will have to stop short of drilling pipeline under the river.
Williams said there’s no indication when that easement will be written.
(Reach Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or email@example.com.)
“We still have archaeological concerns.”
-- Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault