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Double Ditch erosion

The bank erosion from the Missouri River at Double Ditch Indian Village northwest of Bismarck on Highway 1804 had expanded by March 2016 to damage a walking path and burial grounds.

A 120-day evaluation to permit a project at the Double Ditch Indian Village site by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may mean construction aimed at alleviating erosion of native burial grounds may be delayed until spring.

“We’d be very concerned if construction doesn’t start this fall,” said Fern Swenson, director of archaeology and historic preservation with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, of the fear a delay would allow for more destruction of the site.

To date, 16 burial areas have been exposed and subsequently moved.

A 30-day public comment period through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ended Sept. 15. The comments were provided to the agency this week and she expects a public hearing to be held soon, according to Swenson.

Toni Erhardt, project manager for the Corps’ Omaha District’s North Dakota Regulatory Office in Bismarck, said more than 20 comments, from the public, various agencies and stakeholders, were received.

“We got several requests for a public hearing,” said Erhardt, adding that it usually takes about 120 days to evaluate a standard permit. 

Swenson expects concerns that may be brought up during a public hearing to include whether the proposed solution at the Double Ditch site may impact other sites downstream, including a couple of existing rip raps, or rock barriers, already in place.

Southfield, Mich.-based Atwell LLC has done the engineering and design work for the project. The plan calls for removing soil from the top of the bluff and relocating it closer to the river to add stability. A subsurface barrier would also be used to stabilize the ground.

The 2011 flooding began a process of water eating away the ground at the site, causing buried remains of Native Americans from hundreds of years ago to become exposed. Once the river flow ate away at the base of the shoreline, weight of the topsoil began causing further instability and slumping.

The proposed fix, which was allotted $3.5 million by the Legislature in 2015, is to protect an area that stretches about 1,900 feet along the river. 

“We’re ready to go as far as the archaeological standpoint,” Swenson said. “We continue to work very close with Three Affiliated Tribes.”

A conservative number of possible human burials at the village is 10,000 individuals, according to the historical society. 

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at