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Despite bone discovery, Cramer says tour should give Corps confidence to issue final easement

BISMARCK - U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer says a tour Thursday, Oct. 20, of a controversial segment of the Dakota Access Pipeline route where tribal officials claim sacred sites were desecrated should give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the confidence ...

ictured from left, U.S. Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander Col. John Henderson,Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Historic Preservation Officer John Eagle and Congressman Kevin Cramer lead today’s group of participantsin a field examination of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site in Morton County near Lake Oahe.
ictured from left, U.S. Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander Col. John Henderson, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Historic Preservation Officer John Eagle and Congressman Kevin Cramer lead today’s group of participants in a field examination of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site in Morton County near Lake Oahe.

BISMARCK – U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer says a tour Thursday, Oct. 20, of a controversial segment of the Dakota Access Pipeline route where tribal officials claim sacred sites were desecrated should give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the confidence it needs to issue the final easement for the four-state oil pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, who participated in the tour, called Friday for an immediate stop to construction and a full investigation after a bone fragment was found during the tour near an area identified by a former tribal historian as a sacred prayer and burial site.

Archambault said he felt like officials on the tour dismissed the fragment as a buffalo bone and didn’t take the finding seriously.

“We have all these officials there, and they’re playing it off like it’s not a big deal, and that’s what I found disturbing,” he said. “It’s just like they want this to be ramrodded through.”

Cramer said that wasn’t the case, noting he was standing next to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe archaeologist who found the fragment at the base of the dirt berm along the edge of the route.

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“It was treated with the absolutely utmost respect as a piece of evidence that I saw,” he said. “I didn’t see anyone dismiss that at all.”

The state medical examiner’s office tested the bone fragment and another bone, and preliminary results indicate they are carpal bones from a large mammal, either a horse, cow or bison, according to Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Donnell Preskey and a memo from State Forensic Examiner William Massello III.

“They are too large to be human carpal bones,” Massello wrote.

Chief state archaeologist Paul Picha said he collected the bone fragment and gave it to the sheriff’s department, which delivered it to Massello’s office. Picha said no human remains were found at the site Thursday or during state archaeologists’ previous survey of the route.

After being informed about the test results, Archambault said Friday afternoon he’d like to see an outside third party do an evaluation.

Cramer said the bone discovery wasn’t enough to trigger a work stoppage. It was found 50 to 100 feet away from where the pipeline will be laid, and construction is still several miles away from that area, he said.

The 30-person tour was organized at the request of the pipeline’s developer, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, to allow various parties to inspect the roughly two miles of pipeline route west of Highway 1806 that were bulldozed on Sept. 3 – the day after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed court documents in which former tribal preservation officer Tim Mentz identified burials, stone rings, effigies and other culturally significant features in and along the pipeline corridor.

Tribal officials claim Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, intentionally leapfrogged construction into that area before further investigation could take place and that the earthwork destroyed sacred sites, which Dakota Access denies. State archaeologists recently found no evidence of sacred sites being destroyed.

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Along with Cramer, Archambault and Picha, those who toured the site included the commander of the Corps’ Omaha District, Col. John Henderson; current Standing Rock Historic Preservation Officer Jon Eagle Sr.; representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp; and archaeologists from the Cheyenne River tribe.

Cramer issued a statement calling the tour “an invaluable relationship-building experience that helped us better understand North Dakota’s cultural landscape.”

“I hope this can help us establish a better understanding going forward,” he said. “And, I am certain that after today the Corps of Engineers will feel confident it has the adequate affirmation to issue the final easement to complete the pipeline construction across the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is suing the Corps in federal court for issuing a permit for the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline to cross Lake Oahe less than a mile north of the reservation.

The Corps has not yet issued an easement and said in a joint statement on Sept. 9 with the Department of Justice and Department of Interior that said the Corps will not authorize construction under Lake Oahe until further review.

In a news release from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, Dakota Access Executive Vice President Joey Mahmound said the company is “pleased with the results” of the tour and hopes it concludes the analysis being conducted by the three federal agencies “and leads to the prompt issuance of the easement on federal lands adjacent to Lake Oahe.”

Archambault criticized Dakota Access for not allowing Mentz to participate in Thursday’s tour.

“He’s not allowed to defend his discoveries,” he said. “None of us knows firsthand what Tim knows.”

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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 has disputed that Mentz had permission from the landowner to survey the land. Dakota Access has since purchased the land from the rancher who owned it.

“I think what he’s done up to this point has been more divisive than it’s been uniting,” Cramer said of Mentz.

Cramer said the company gave the tribal and state officials complete access to the location if they wanted to unpile the berm and sift through it.

Archambault said he wants a third-party archaeologist to investigate the site. Cramer said, “The company is willing to do that, but they don’t feel it’s necessary, either.”

The tour came the same week that Hoeven met with Corps officials, including Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, to push for the easement and make the case that the situation with the pipeline protest needs to get resolved. Authorities have arrested more than 140 people in connection with pipeline protests.

Cramer said Corps officials did not indicate a timeline for the easement decision.

“I wouldn’t expect anything before the election,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something not long after the election.”

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