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BISMARCK, N.D. - The company building a controversial oil pipeline north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation failed to immediately notify regulators after finding four stone cairns and other artifacts during construction in Morton County as tensions grew among pipeline opponents, documents show.
Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, waited at least 10 days to notify the North Dakota Public Service Commission about an unanticipated discovery in mid-October, a potential violation of the state permit for construction.
The company formally notified regulators Oct. 27, making the report a public record for the first time, the same day hundreds of law officers evicted protesters blocking the pipeline's route on private land, leading to 141 arrests.
Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said she's disappointed the company didn't notify regulators the same time it did the State Historic Preservation Office.
Fedorchak said the three-member commission plans to discuss the matter and the possibility of fining Dakota Access during its meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has repeatedly disputed state archaeologist findings that the pipeline won't affect cultural resources, was not involved in evaluating the find.
Jon Eagle Sr., tribal historic preservation officer, said typically he would have been notified about such a discovery, but didn't know about it until contacted Tuesday by Forum News Service.
'North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office has closed their doors to the tribe,” Eagle said. 'They don't return my phone calls, they didn't respond to my letter. There's no open communication.”
The state's chief archaeologist, Paul Picha, also didn't tell regulators about the evaluation of the cairns and artifacts.
Fedorchak said she first learned Oct. 25 about the discovery from the third-party consultant hired by the commission to inspect pipeline construction.
She said she thinks the company 'followed in the spirit of the requirement” by notifying the State Historic Preservation Office, but said she found a 'general lack of transparency” by not telling regulators.
An attorney for Dakota Access ultimately informed the commission in an Oct. 27 letter that the unanticipated discovery occurred Oct. 17 when a third-party cultural resource monitor was inspecting in conjunction with clearing and grading activities.
The project's hired archaeologist was sent to assess the find, which was 'thoroughly investigated” with photos, mapping and excavation of 17 shovel probes, the letter said. The probes identified degrading sediments 'with a low likelihood for buried cultural deposits,” but because there were multiple cairns in close context with Knife River flint artifacts, the principal investigator 'recommended avoidance of the property.”
Dakota Access notified the historic preservation office on Oct. 17, and the office signed off the next day on the company's plans to avoid any impacts, said Picha.
Picha said cairns, or rock piles, can be commemorative markers, trail markers and 'in a small number of instances, they have marked human burials.” He said the cairns aren't believed to mark burial sites.
Dakota Access rerouted the pipeline within ane approved corridor to avoid impacts to any cultural resources.