Iowa state archaeologist wants testing before Bakken pipeline approval

Bakken group said it has professionals conducting the surveys

  • Photo

Iowa’s state archaeologist contends the proposed Bakken Pipeline carrying crude from North Dakota to Illinois should face the same scrutiny as a state project with potential to disrupt archaeological sites.

A public agency, such as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources or the Iowa Department of Transportation, would be required in such a project to test land for archaeological significance, wrote John Doershuk, director of the Office of the State Archaeologist, in a May 22 letter to the Iowa Utilities Board.

“If this were an Iowa DOT or DNR project, the entire area of potential effect would be included in requirements for archaeological compliance and (the Bakken Pipeline) should be subject to the same level of scrutiny to which we hold Iowa agencies,” he wrote.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer requested a permit from the Iowa Utilities Board for its subsidiary Dakota Access LLC to build the Bakken Pipeline for crude oil, which would cut diagonally across 343 miles in Iowa.

The utilities board is accepting public comments as it reviews the permit request and has not set a date for hearing.

Donald Tormey, an Iowa Utilities Board spokesman, said the board doesn’t have specific archaeological testing requirements but said the Bakken group “would be expected to address in its hearing testimony how its pipeline route selection process took archaeological considerations into account.”

Vicki Anderson Granado, a pipeline spokeswoman, said the company has professional firms conducting archaeological, civil and environmental surveys, and has “surveyed and negotiated easement agreements with nearly 55 percent of those along the route in Iowa.” A firm called Burns & McDonnell is handling the archaeological work.

Doershuk cautioned that there are different standards for “archaeological surveys,” and is hopeful the Bakken survey includes the full corridor of land and proper documentation.

“It is one thing to ‘do’ an archaeological field survey, but the proof is in the documentation: what was done where and why,” he wrote in an email Wednesday to The Gazette. “I hope to participate in the review process of the technical report along with the (Rock Island Corps of Engineers and the State Historic Preservation Office in Des Moines) to insure an adequate effort was made by the hired consulting archaeologist.”

His biggest archaeological concern, he said, is unexplored land. There are potential intersections with 1800s-era Meskwaki camps in Story County, a 1821 fur trading post in Des Moines County and a mammoth findspot in Mahaska County that could reveal interaction of early Iowans with the Ice Age mammal, Doershuk wrote.

His office estimates less than 3 percent of the roughly 8,000-acre project area within Iowa has been surveyed by a professional archaeologist.

The area has 27 known archaeological sites documented within or adjacent to 200 feet of the proposed Bakken Pipeline, and another 137 known archaeological sites are within 3300 feet, he wrote in the letter to the utilities board.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires state agencies to study all of the land affected by a project, but the act would require the Bakken Pipeline to consider only known archaeological sites, he wrote.

“The vast areas of archaeologically unexplored landscape slated to be affected by construction of (the Bakken Pipeline) should also be investigated as it is highly likely currently unknown but significant archaeological deposits will be discovered,” he wrote.

The Corps of Engineers will require archaeological surveys of 16 of the 17 major river and stream crossings in Iowa, but that represents only a “drop in the bucket of the whole project footprint,” he said.

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.