Cultural Controversy Delaying Permanent Truck Bypass | VideoEvan Kruegel | 11/21/2012
"It`s working fairly well, but there are a number of trucks that just don`t want to go that far. If you`re coming up from the south on Highway 85, you`ve got to go quite a few miles west to get back to the east, and trucks don`t like to do that,Ē said Mayor Ward Koeser.
Officials are trying to move forward with a permanent bypass. Two separate routes have been proposed, a yellow route and a red route. The yellow would be closer to town, and would have less impact on farmland, making it the preferred choice by both the city and county. But some sacred Native American land sits along the route, creating a cultural controversy.
"There are actual formations, rock formations, in the hills in those areas, and there are a lot of artifacts in those areas that relate back to Native American history," said NDDOT Transportation Director Steve Salwei.
The county has asked state officials to continue searching for a way to build over, under or around the sacred land, but it doesn`t look promising.
"We`ve had meetings for a year now, and we basically haven`t made any progress on getting through the cultural sites from where we were a year ago," said County Commissioner Wayne Aberle.
Salwei says that lack of progress could continue.
"The letter that we received from the federal highway administration says that its highly unlikely that we will be able to pursue that route."
The city is ready to move on to plan B, and begin construction on the red route.
"From the city`s perspective, we need to get it done. The state has said if we can agree upon something that they`ll do it, and they`ll pay for it, the county is more hesitant,Ē said Koeser.
Both city and county commissioners will need to come to an agreement before the DOT can begin construction, and they`ll need to do it soon if they want construction to begin by next summer.
"If the state says we definitely cannot get through on that route, it might be time to move on and look at other options," said Aberle.
Koeser says itís a tough situation, without an easy compromise.
"Do you look out for the cultural resources or do you look out for the property owners along there? Ideally, you find a compromise, but we`ll see if we can do that."