Dakota Access disputes archaeologist's findings that Bakken route crosses tribal burial grounds

Order to begin construction on most of the route in Iowa has been signed

Hundreds of miles of pipe sit in storage in Newton as photographed on Wednesday, October 14, 2015. The Bakken group is i
Hundreds of miles of pipe sit in storage in Newton as photographed on Wednesday, October 14, 2015. The Bakken group is in the process of securing land for it’s pipeline project and preparing for the build despite the fact the line hasn’t been approved. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

A Texas oil company is challenging the findings and authority of Iowa’s state archaeologist, who recommended the company reroute its Bakken oil pipeline to avoid land in northwestern Iowa’s Big Sioux River Wildlife Management Area where native tribes contend an ancient sacred burial ground exists.

Lisa Dillinger, a spokeswoman for pipeline developer Dakota Access, a division of Energy Transfer Partners, said in an email that State Archaeologist John Doershuk has jurisdiction only if human remains older than 150 years are found. And if such a discovery is made, jurisdiction extends only to overseeing relocation and handling of historic remains, she said.

“If something is confirmed in the area, we will make any necessary adjustments and continue on,” Dillinger said. “Energy Transfer respects and honors all areas of cultural significance and takes great care in these types of situations to mitigate any impact.”

The Iowa Utilities Board, which is the main regulator for the 346 miles of pipeline through 18 counties in Iowa, signed an order Tuesday allowing Dakota Access to begin construction on land where voluntary easements and permission have been secured, which is the vast majority of the Iowa route.

Board Chairwoman Geri Huser dissented, stating that allowing construction now “affects the terms and conditions of the permit that is currently subject to judicial review proceedings;” that the board lacks jurisdiction due to the lawsuits; and that Dakota Access failed to meet conditions agreed to in its permit approved by the board March 10.

The Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a permit on land it has jurisdiction over, which was a requirement of the March state permit. And several lawsuits have been filed to block the pipeline. Protesters have vowed to commit acts of civil disobedience to stop construction in Iowa.

Construction has begun in the other states on the route — North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. The 1,168-mile, $3.8 billion, underground pipeline has a capacity of up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day.


After reports of sacred buried remains in Lyon County, the state Department of Natural Resources issued a stop work order May 26 stating Dakota Access needed permission from Doershuk and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before doing any work at the site.

Dillinger, from Dakota Access, contended a 2004 archaeological survey, in which Doershuk was a co-investigator, “cleared the property we are crossing of any historic or archaeological sites.” She said the pipeline route is “in the portion of the property where nothing was found as confirmed by this study.”

However, the survey, which was conducted for fence improvements, noted “no technique is completely adequate to locate all archaeological materials, especially deeply buried ones.”

“Therefore, should any cultural, historical, or paleontological resources be exposed as part of proposed project activities, the responsible agency must be notified immediately in accordance with the Protection of Historic Properties regulations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation,” the report stated.

Doershuk declined to comment Tuesday.

Last week, he said native tribes with ancestral ties to the Big Sioux River valley appreciated the “intangible traditional cultural aspects.” He recommended the site be avoided and protected, and said it is considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

A spokesman for the Iowa DNR stated only: “We are going to continue to work with all of the parties involved until all of the questions have been answered.”

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