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Published November 29, 2012, 08:52 AM

Artifacts complicate bypass plans in Williston

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Plans to build a permanent truck bypass around Williston have been complicated by what North Dakota Transportation Director Francis Ziegler says is an "unprecedented" discovery of American Indian artifacts.

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Plans to build a permanent truck bypass around Williston have been complicated by what North Dakota Transportation Director Francis Ziegler says is an "unprecedented" discovery of American Indian artifacts.

The artifacts uncovered along the preferred route for the bypass include burial sites and stone circles, Ziegler said during a meeting Wednesday with city and Williams County officials.

"This is unprecedented. In my years in project development, I've never seen this kind of concentration," Ziegler said. "Up to 20 percent of these sites are burials. We don't want to start at all; we just want to leave it. We have never, ever gone through any burial grounds. If we do, it's by accident."

The state spent $1 million to study the cultural resources because of the possibility that federal funding and agencies will be involved in the bypass project at some point, Deputy Transportation Director Grant Levi said.

Levi, who takes over as department director when Ziegler retires at the end of the week, said he met with tribal leaders and was impressed by their solidarity in opposing the route.

"This is the first time I've seen the four tribes (in North Dakota) stand unified in a position," he said, adding that tribal leaders have indicated they might sue if necessary to stop the project.

A Standing Rock Sioux committee passed a resolution Wednesday asking for the route to be abandoned. Tribal Chairman Charles Murphy said the resolution will be passed by the full Tribal Council next week.

Crews earlier this year completed a temporary bypass in the area to help route heavy oil field truck traffic around Williston and ease congestion in city limits. It is designed to last only two or three years. Levi said officials will look at options for a permanent bypass that does not disturb the artifacts, but County Commission Chairman Dan Kalil said a second possible route is opposed by some private property owners whose land would be affected.

"This is one of the most important decisions our city and county are going to make in our terms of office," Kalil said.

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