Iowa Indian burial site possibility stalls oil pipeline

DES MOINES, Iowa – The possibility of an American Indian burial site in northwest Iowa may require relocation of a crude oil pipeline route and delay the beginning of construction in Iowa, the only one of four states where work hasn’t begun.

The Dakota Access pipeline passes through the Big Sioux Wildlife Management area in Lyon County, traditional homeland for the Dakota Sioux where Standing Rock Sioux Tribal leaders say there is a burial site.

“The site has been identified by the tribe as of historical and cultural significance with associated burial activity,” said State Archaeologist John Doershuk.

Under Iowa law, Doershuk must now study the area to determine whether it is more than 150 years old. If so, it is considered ancient burial grounds and he is obligated under Iowa law to protect it from disturbance.

The Sioux ceded land in the region to the U.S. government by treaty in 1851, according to a history of Lyon County, Iowa, posted on the county’s website.

The wildlife area is managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns the property.

The federal agency in March granted Iowa permission to issue a permit for the pipeline to run through the area but on Wednesday informed the state agency the permit was revoked due to the discovery.

“We did send a letter to the DNR stating to please stop all clearing and ground disturbing activities within that pipeline corridor on the Big Sioux pending further investigation,” said Mara Koenig, a spokeswoman for the agency’s Midwest region. “We’ll work with state archaeologist to review evidence that is collected from that site so we can determine the next course of action.”

On Thursday the state sent a “stop work order” letter to the Dakota Access contractor.

Houston-based Dakota Access LLC wants to build the 1,150-mile pipeline — designed to carry a half-million barrels of oil a day — from northwest North Dakota to a storage facility in south-central Illinois. Construction on the $3.8 billion project has begun in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois, but the Iowa Utilities Board has not yet authorized work to begin.

A spokeswoman for Dakota Access said the project isn’t affected because work has not yet begun in Iowa.

“We are aware of the rumours of a potential archaeological site along the route, which has not been confirmed,” said Lisa Dillinger. “If something is confirmed in the area, we will work with the appropriate agencies to make any necessary adjustments.”

Tribal leaders said discovery of the burial site highlights why state and federal agencies should slow down and more thoroughly study the pipeline route.

“This consequence of the expedited project is representative of a Tribal apprehension regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline: the destruction of important cultural and historic sites,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The area also includes a pipeline section for which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction. The Corps has yet to issue permits for the pipeline as it continues to review river crossings and other federal land for which the Corps has permit responsibilities.

“If this is a significant Indian historical site that certainly could delay the permitting process if we have to get involved in realignments,” said Ron Fournier, a Corps spokesman.


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