Culvert in washout that killed 2 was overdue for maintenance

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A culvert that washed out from under a highway on the Standing Rock Reservation in July, killing two people when they drove into the chasm, had been identified for replacement seven years ago.

Ron His Horse Is Thunder, the tribe’s director of transportation and planning, told the Bismarck Tribune that the culvert was bowing but not considered dangerous.

The culvert and road above it eroded after a 7-inch rainfall.

“It wasn’t the failure of the culvert structure itself,” His Horse Is Thunder said Thursday. “It was the washing around — I guess the word is scouring — of all the dirt around the culvert. It just ate around the culvert, and then finally eroded around the culvert enough that it shoved it through.”

But His Horse Is Thunder said the culvert is a symptom of a lack of funding for many road projects on reservation land.

“We go to Congress every year,” he said. “They just don’t give us enough money to take care of the issues.”

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said his office has been in contact with Standing Rock leadership about the road and the need for enhanced road maintenance in general. Funding formulas for tribal roads, which tribes negotiate with the Department of Transportation, are part of the transportation bill and fall under jurisdiction of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Hoeven, who is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said he was able to get the Environment and Public Works Committee to include increased funding of $50 million instead of $30 million in the transportation bill for BIA road maintenance and the Tribal Transportation Program’s Safety Fund. The bill has been voted out of committee and is expected to be taken up by the Senate soon, Hoeven said in a statement.

The $1.45 million culvert replacement is expected to be completed by Oct. 31.

The two people who died that night were both from Mobridge, S.D. Trudy Peterson, 60, was headed north from Mobridge to start a shift as a nurse at the Indian Health Service in Fort Yates. Jim VanderWal, 65, was driving south, hauling mail to Mobridge from Bismarck.

Categories: North Dakota News, Traffic & Accidents