The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 19, 2012

PHOTOS | Keystone pipeline's path cuts across Native American land, history

(Continued)

CUSHING, Okla. —

TransCanada has flown some tribal leaders to Calgary to tour the company's operations center where banks of computers monitor thousands of points along existing pipelines. And it has trained members of the Alabama Coushatta tribe from south Texas to act as monitors during construction in case Indian remains or artifacts turn up on the tribe's stretch of the pipeline.

"We walk the entire pipeline route and identify sites and alter the route of our pipeline to avoid those sites," said Thompson of TransCanada.

He said that the company also has asked the tribes to conduct their own studies of sensitive sites. "Sometimes there are areas very significant to the tribes that don't bear any physical evidence," Thompson said. "It might be used to hold ceremonies, but if you walked there you wouldn't see any evidence."

Thompson's efforts have new impetus. In July, TransCanada received the permits it needs to build the Keystone XL's southern leg, which will run from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas, and the company already has started work.

Yet some of the Native Americans who attended the meetings believe the company is moving too fast. Massey said, "They need to learn whose land is where." Moreover, she added, monitors from one tribe won't know the traditions and desires of other tribes.

While Thompson said tribes have looked at programs for construction work, Massey said the plans still lack input from many tribal leaders. "It seems like TransCanada really wants to work with us," she said dryly. "We'll see."

Massey also worries about leaks. In the 1960s, saltwater flooding resulting from Tenneco's failure to properly plug abandoned wells contaminated Sac and Fox drinking water and destroyed land and pecan groves. Three federal agencies joined the tribe in a lawsuit and the pipeline company El Paso (which bought Tenneco) agreed in 1997 to dig wells, provide potable water and plant trees. The wells still provide water to the tribe.

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