Tribal citizens and their allies rally in front of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., during Native Nations Rise on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Environment | National

Dakota Access enters settlement for 'unanticipated discovery' of tribal artifacts

The wealthy backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline won't have to pay a fine in connection with the "unanticipated discovery" of tribal artifacts in North Dakota.

Energy Transfer Partners was facing a nominal fine of about $15,000 for failing to report the discovery in a timely manner. The pipeline was also re-routed without proper notice, the North Dakota Public Service Commission said last year when it initiated an investigation into the incident.

But a settlement approved by the commission on Wednesday paints a slightly different picture. While it acknowledges that Energy Transfer did not notify the state about the discovery or the re-route "until after the re-route occurred," it credits the firm for protecting the artifacts.

"The area was flagged off from construction traffic ... [and] .. the site was marked, preserved and left undisturbed," the settlement reads.

As part of the settlement, Dakota Access has agreed to develop an "industry reference manual for managing unanticipated discoveries and route changes during construction." The document is to be completed before an upcoming industry conference in May 2018.

“We weren’t looking for the death penalty here,” commissioner Julie Fedorchak said of the settlement, The Bismarck Tribune reported. “We wanted to hold the company responsible for fulfilling their obligations and commitments to the citizens.”

The artifacts that were discovered during construction last October are known as cairns, which are stone formations or stone features that tribes use to mark important places, including burial grounds and sacred sites. At the time, Fedorchak said no items were destroyed.

Just a month prior, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe notified a federal judge of similar stone features at another construction site. But a request for an injunction to protect the area was denied and the land was bulldozed by Dakota Access over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

The settlement also resolves a separate issue regarding the removal of trees along the pipeline route by requiring the firm to plant more trees. Energy Transfer faced a much larger fine for that alleged infraction.

Despite widespread opposition to the project, oil started flowing through the pipeline on June 1 over the objections of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Just two weeks later, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration approved the final portion in North Dakota without considering treaty rights and other issues.

The tribes have asked a federal judge to halt operations while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers addresses the issues. The Trump administration, Energy Transfer and industry groups oppose the request.

Read More on the Story:
Settlement with Dakota Access calls for industry education, planting of trees (The Bismarck Tribune September 20, 2017)
North Dakota settles with Dakota Access pipeline builder (The Associated Press September 20, 2017)

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