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Dakota Access buys land near encampment where tribe claims sacred sites disturbed

BISMARCK - The company building the Dakota Access Pipeline has purchased 20 parcels of land totaling more than 7,000 acres north of where protesters of the four-state oil pipeline are encamped on federally owned land and where the Standing Rock S...

Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

BISMARCK – The company building the Dakota Access Pipeline has purchased 20 parcels of land totaling more than 7,000 acres north of where protesters of the four-state oil pipeline are encamped on federally owned land and where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claims sacred sites were disturbed by pipeline construction, property records show.

Dakota Access LLC bought the land from cattle ranchers David and Brenda Meyer of nearby Flasher for an undisclosed sum, according to the warranty deed filed with the Morton County Recorder’s Office.  

The company’s Bismarck attorney, Lawrence Bender, signed the deed on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Dakota Access spokeswoman Vicki Anderson Granado confirmed Friday that Dakota Access purchased land in North Dakota but declined to provide any further details on the transaction.

The Meyers did not returned phone messages left at their listed number Friday and earlier this week.

The land they sold includes a segment of the pipeline route west of Highway 1806 where the tribe claims burials and other sacred sites were disturbed by bulldozers on Sept. 3, leading to a violent clash between angry protesters and the pipeline’s private security personnel armed with guard dogs and pepper spray. Both sides claimed injuries.

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The deed does not list the acreage sold, but legal descriptions of the parcels show it involved more than 7,000 acres, including the historic Cannonball Ranch located at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers about 35 miles south of Mandan in south-central North Dakota.

Bill Edwards, an investment firm owner in Aberdeen, S.D., said he sold most of the 7,400-acre ranch to the Meyers in two separate transactions in 2010 and 2014 totaling about 7,300 acres. Property and state tax records show the Meyers paid more than $5 million for 7,125 of those acres, all of which were part of this week’s sale to Dakota Access LLC.

The ranch was started in the 1860s by R.M. Johnson, one of the first white settlers along the Cannonball River, and was the first ranch ever inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, in 1999, according to the hall’s website. Edwards said he owned it for about 10 years and still has a small piece of it.

“I had my fun with it. It was a fantastic ranch, and I was just onto other things,” he said.

Edwards said he doesn’t know whether pipeline opponents have been on his land and is “not really” concerned about it.

KX News of Bismarck reported that David Meyer said he sold the ranch to Dakota Access for liability reasons and that there were too many people on his property all the time and that it was a beautiful ranch but he “just wanted out.”

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian and founder of the Sacred Stone Camp, said the land switching hands from the Meyers to Dakota Access changes nothing for pipeline opponents.

“They’re still our sites. Still our burials. Still our sacred sites. Nothing’s changed. They are the foreign people,” she said, saying her first concern is what’s going to happen to the buffalo that graze on the land.

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Dakota Access did not disclose the purchase price with the state tax office because the company claimed that the deed transfer falls under an exemption in state law for sales in which there is “an indicated change of use by the new owners.”

The Meyers previously signed easements with Dakota Access LLC in February 2015 allowing for a 50-foot-wide pipeline easement and a 100-foot-wide construction easement, records show.

David Meyer also has a grazing lease on 429 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just north of the Cannonball River where thousands of pipeline opponents have been camping for several weeks. Meyer is paying $4,865 annually for the lease, which began April 1, 2014, and expires Dec. 31, 2018, according to the Corps.

The Corps granted a special use permit Sept. 16 to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to allow a lawful free-speech demonstration to continue on Corps land south of the Cannonball River but didn’t act on the permit application for the north land because of the existing grazing lease.

A joint task force led by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and involving the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is investigating the Sept. 3 incident, including whether Dakota Access destroyed any sacred sites.

A team of archaeologists with the state archaeologist surveyed the area this week at the request of the task force, county spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said. The findings are still under review by the investigative team.

State archaeologist Paul Picha referred questions to Preskey, who said she could not comment on who participated in the survey or whether it included representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

In a post on his personal Facebook page, the tribe’s historic preservation officer, Jon Eagle Sr., wrote Wednesday that he was asked to attend a meeting that day at the Morton County sheriff’s office with the BCI and Picha, “only to find out that they were at the site conducting an investigation without us.”

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A spokesperson for the tribe said tribal officials weren’t available for comment Friday, and Eagle and tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II did not return messages.

Dakota Access has said in court filings that it didn’t destroy any evidence or important historical sites when it bulldozed the route west of Highway 1806 on Sept. 3, the day after the tribe filed a document in court saying former tribal preservation officer Tim Mentz had identified burials, stone rings, effigies and other features within or along the pipeline right of way.

Dakota Access questioned the veracity of Mentz’s declaration, claiming that six of the sites he identified were directly over the existing Northern Border natural gas pipeline that parallels the Dakota Access route “and could not possibly be original artifacts.” The company also disputed that Mentz had permission from Meyer to survey the land.

“Far from ‘being invited’ onto the construction site by the owner, Mentz trespassed on it and then notified the owner of his presence and asked forgiveness rather than consent. That forgiveness was granted until the owner understood Mentz’s agenda and it was withdrawn,” the company stated in a court filing.

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