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Possible Indian Graves Pause Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa

I drove through Redfield on my way home Saturday. West of town, I saw a field flagged. In town, the rail yard near the kink in US 212 was piled with timbers, culverts, and some equpiment from Michels Construction. Given the Michels crews and the big plank roads I saw on the Mike and Sue Sibson farm during construction of the Keystone 1 pipeline in 2009, I figure that the rail yard is now a staging ground for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which began construction last week in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois.

Energy Partners, the Texas folks building this pipeline to move Bakken crude, planned to start laying pipe in Iowa, too, but Iowa’s state archaeologist John Doershuk just learned the Dakota Access Pipeline may run through some Indian graves:

State Archaeologist John Doershuk told The Des Moines Register that the Upper Sioux tribe has informed state officials about a historic and cultural site includes Indian graves in Lyon County.

“The mapping that the tribe has provided to me suggests that it is smack dab in to where the pipeline was proposed to go,” Doershuk said [William Petroski, “Tirbal Land Issues Block Bakken Pipeline in Iowa,” Des Moines Register, 2016.05.27].

Energy Transfer calls the information “rumors of a potential archaeological site,” but that rumored potential was enough for Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to yank Energy Partners’ permit:

“Based on recent information provided by the State Archaeologist, a significant archaeological site (13LO335) was identified within the [Sioux River Wildlife Management Area] and may fall along the proposed path of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” James Hodgson, chief of wildlife and port fish restoration programs with the FWS, wrote Wednesday (see the documents embedded below). “Due to these recent developments the FWS is requesting that the DNR stop all tree clearing or any ground-disturbing activities within the pipeline corridor pending further investigation.”

In response to Hodgson’s letter, Seth Moore, environmental specialist with the Iowa DNR’s Conservation and Recreation Division, wrote Thursday: “This permit was issued for the construction, maintenance and operation of an underground pipeline across the Big Sioux River Wildlife Management Area (WMA). And this permit was conditioned upon approval by the USFWS. Because that approval has been revoked, Dakota Access, LLC is no longer authorized to engage in any activities pursuant to that permit.”

If Dakota Access wishes to regain approval, Moore added, it must first receive the green light from the state archaeologist and FWS [Gavin Aronsen, “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Revokes Sovereign Lands Construction Permit for Bakken Pipeline,” Iowa Informer, 2016.05.27].

Energy Partners is already placing equipment and may already be digging holesThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that moving and repermitting the pipeline route to avoid archaeological sites may take two to six months. That’s two to six months that opponents like the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe can use to continue their protest and look for a way to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.


  1. mike from iowa 2016-05-30 08:14

    Energy Transfer Pansies were suggesting to recalcitrant landowners the pipeline was a done deal-getting a number of the owners to sign easements they may not have otherwise signed.

    This pipeline will cross every major iowa watershed and basically follow the Des Moines River which provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of iowans. But since so many of iowa’s waters are already impaired due to big ag Cafos, a little more pollution prolly won’t hurt.

  2. Paul Seamans 2016-05-30 09:26

    The South Dakota PUC permit for the Dakota Access requires Energy Transfer Partners to do a cultural resource survey. These culture resource surveys by ETP and TransCanada consist of a quick walk through by unqualified personnel and then they call it good. During the cultural resource survey for the KXL in Buffalo County a landowner went with the crew. It consisted of about three workers who did not have any knowledge of Oceti Sakowin culture, which is crucial if you want to know what to look for. The landowner knew of sites on his land but the crew wasn’t interested. These surveys are ship shoddily performed and are a joke.

    The PUC makes these permit requirements that have no teeth. Why is TransCanada being required by PHMSA to dig up spots on the Keystone 1 by Freeman. Why didn’t the PUC require an independent inspector be on site to verify that everything was up to code before the pipe was buried?

    During the southern leg of the Keystone XL there were so many bad welds that had to be dug up and redone that phmsa added a requirement that an independent inspector was to be required on site for the northern portion. This inspector was to report to phmsa.

    What I’m getting at is that the PUC will add conditions to these permits that have no teeth. There are cultural resource sites that are not being found. This has been proven that they missed an important turtle effigy on the KXL route in Tripp County. The Keystone 1 pipeline leaked near Freeman because of poor workmanship. I hold the PUC accountable for these kinds of problems. The PUC is willing to take the word of these pipeline companies that everything is up to snuff.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-30 14:18

    You guys are right—we need to hold these companies more accountable! When we say cultural survey, we mean cultural survey, not just three guys walking through a field and not noticing any gravestones.

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