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State historical society working with engineering firm to preserve Double Ditch Indian Village

BISMARCK -- As another piece of land at Double Ditch Indian Village is showing signs of sliding into the Missouri River, preservation of the Native American site is becoming more urgent, according to Fern Swenson, director of archaeology and hist...

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BISMARCK -- As another piece of land at Double Ditch Indian Village is showing signs of sliding into the Missouri River, preservation of the Native American site is becoming more urgent, according to Fern Swenson, director of archaeology and historic preservation with the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

“One slide is developing that goes through the village itself,” Swenson said. “It’s an emergency situation. We can’t afford to wait.”

Two chunks of land already have been sliding at the site. To date, 16 burial areas have been exposed and subsequently moved.

A proposed solution will be submitted soon to federal officials and the hope is for a smooth permitting process so work can begin in the coming months, according to state officials.

A total of $3.5 million was approved by the Legislature in 2015 for the project, which is to protect the site and the native burial grounds along the river from the erosion that has plagued the site in recent years.

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A conservative number of possible human burials at the village is 10,000 individuals, according to the historical society.The longer it takes to address the erosion the more burials are likely to be uncovered, according to Swenson, who has expressed confidence the plan will be approved.

Southfield, Mich.-based Atwell LLC was hired in August to do the engineering and design work for the project.

Flooding along the Missouri River in 2011 began a process of water eating away the ground at the site, causing buried remains of Native Americans from hundreds of years ago to become exposed. After the river flow ate away at the base of the shore along the river, the overall weight of topsoil up to the top of the bluff at the site began causing further instability and slumping.

“They’ll be removing some of the base up above on top of the bluff,” Swenson said.

The removed soil would be relocated down closer to the river to add stability to the area that’s sliding. A subsurface barrier also would be used to stabilize the ground.

The proposed fix is to protect an area that stretches about 1,900 feet along the river. Building a jetty to prevent further erosion as well as erecting a riprap, or rock barrier, would also be utilized.

Swenson said a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit will be needed for the proposed fix. She said the proposal will soon be submitted and, once a permit is granted, the project will go out to bid and work can begin. The timeline for construction hinges on when a permit is granted.

Swenson said the agency continues to work with and keep the Three Affiliated Tribes informed on the issue.

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Historical society board member Calvin Grinnell agreed that the project should come together quickly once work begins.

“I look forward to seeing what they (the engineers) come up with,” Grinnell said.

Grinnell said his hope is there will be improved river access once completed.

“I think it’ll be more visitor friendly,” Grinnell said of the finished site.

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