Some newspapers are providing full coverage of various actions by the BG Pipeline people and Williams Company such as this story by James Bruggers of Watchdog Earth (link at end of text). And we're supposed to trust these companies with our environmental and water supply protection?
An Indian burial site in Hardin County has been looted between visits by archaeologists working for the Bluegrass Pipeline project, prompting some to question whether the project is endangering the site and saying criminal charges may be warranted.
Ancient human remains were discovered at the site last summer during a survey of the proposed route through Kentucky for the controversial natural gas liquids pipeline, according to emails provided to The Courier-Journal under a federal Freedom of Information Act request.
READ more on and a history of the pipeline controversy on James Bruggers' Watchdog Earth blog
A Minnesota consulting firm reported the “unanticipated discovery in Kentucky” to the Army Corps of Engineers on Aug. 2.
Among items observed at the site by archaeologists include ceramic shards, an arrowhead and a piece of a human skull, according to one email.
And a Kentucky Heritage Council archaeologist, Kary Stackelbeck, told a Corps official on Aug. 8 that “looting activity” had occurred between site visits by the archaeologists.
“That tells me that (someone) was tipped off about the project and decided to try to hit the site and get it dug before the archaeologists and before the pipeline comes through,” Stackelbeck wrote. “I am concerned that the project itself is endangering the site and making it more susceptible to looting.”
In interviews this week, Stackelback declined to identify the location of the site or its owner, saying officials want to limit public knowledge of the location to protect it from further desecration. She said looting gravesites for human remains or other objects can result in felony or misdemeanor charges.
Emails from pipeline consultants provided by the Corps to the newspaper say the local sheriff’s office and coroner were notified. And Stackelback confirmed Monday that local authorities had been notified, adding that she presumed that the matter was under investigation.
But if there was any investigation, Hardin County Sheriff Charlie Williams said he didn’t know of it.
“I know Bluegrass is in the area doing surveys,” Williams said. “But I am personally not familiar with them finding an archaeological site such as that.”
Kenneth Spangenberger, chief deputy coroner for Hardin County, said he visited the site with another deputy coroner in August and confirmed the human remains found there were historic. He said a sheriff’s deputy did not go along, but Spangenberger said that he had let the sheriff know what they found afterward.
“We made them aware,” he said. “We told him it might have been looted.”
When told that the sheriff was not aware of any investigation, Stackelback said Tuesday that state officials would likely remind him of state laws that seek to prevent grave robbing and desecration.
“This is the kind of thing we would follow up on,” she said.
Williams said state police could also investigate, and Stackelback agreed.
Pipeline spokesman Tom Droege acknowledged that Bluegrass Pipeline archaeologists discovered an artifact as part of cultural resources surveying work on private property in Hardin County, describing it as a “small human bone fragment” and something that “is not uncommon in Kentucky.”
He said pipeline representatives “informed the landowner and made all appropriate notifications to relevant agencies and authorities.”
The company has surveyed an alternate route to avoid the site, Droege said.
Louisville environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said state and local officials need to find out what happened.
“There is a lot of investigation that needs to occur,” said FitzGerald, who has been helping opponents of the pipeline.
Corps officials are involved because the pipeline developers have expressed an interest in crossing Corps property near the agency’s Taylorsville Lake. The Corps would also need to approve any stream, river or wetlands crossings, following a federal review that would include historic and archaeological resources.
That review could involve consultation with American Indian tribes.
But as of yet, no tribal representatives have been contacted about the discovery — or the reported looting.
State officials said that responsibility lies with the federal agency.
But in the emails to pipeline representatives and state officials, and in interviews with the newspaper, Corps officials said Tuesday that it would be premature to notify Indian tribes because the pipeline has yet to apply for the kind of permit that would trigger a formal review.
“We can’t cry foul unless it is in our jurisdiction, and we won’t know that until we get the application,” said Carol Labashosky, spokeswoman for the Corps in Louisville.
Leslie Barras, a Louisville attorney who specializes in historic preservation law, disagreed, saying said American Indians should have been told about the site and the looting.
Barras also said that despite the kind of “conscience shocking” nature of the looting, “seldom do crimes like these get prosecuted because of the lack of red-handed direct evidence.”