Corps works to solve river bank erosion on Missouri

Pierre, South Dakota (AP) 1-08

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for shoring up the banks of the Missouri River, and Richard Harnois, state archaeologist for the corps, says it means more than stopping the river’s encroachment onto the land.

It also means protecting artifacts.

“All the Missouri River Basin is important culturally,” Harnois said. “The river’s been there for eons. And people have lived along the river for at least 12,000 years we know about and they’ve left evidence of their occupations behind for all that 12,000 years.”

The federal National Historic Preservation Act says such cultural resources must be protected.

“Anytime we do anything that might impact the resources along the river in this area, I get called in to make sure there won’t be any adverse affects on the cultural resources there,” Harnois said.

Evidence of native peoples can be exposed when a water intake is being installed.

“Once in a while when we’re doing the initial site survey and inspection to determine how we’re going to access the site, they’ll point out different things to me, like pottery chips or bone fragments or skulls, on occasion,” said Michael Trumm, Big Bend civil engineer.

Harnois said there usually are two projects a year to protect burial sites. Two sites east of Pierre await bank stabilization.

Trumm said the cost of work at the sites, estimated at $400,000, was contracted to the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

Harnois said the corps has a priority list for stabilization work. “Some areas are being eroded faster than others. It’s always a concern that artifacts will be disturbed by people. Folks think they need to go mess with that stuff. It causes us problems and eventually them,” he said.