The Minnesota Department of Transportation is winterizing its closed State Highway 23 road and bridge project as archaeologists continue to identify the impact the construction's project has had on a Native American burial site.
MnDOT is meeting regularly with officials from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said Roberta Dwyer, project manager with MnDOT. Anything the archaeologists find at the site is confidential, she said.
"There are some areas where things will be marked or removed for historical purposes; it's up to the decision of the Fond du Lac Tribal Council. But anything that came out of the cemetery will go back to the cemetery," Dwyer said.
Archaeologists are working to determine the boundaries of the cemetery and the location of remains. Now that winter is nearing, MnDOT plans to construct a building in the next two weeks and cover the unearthed dirt at the site with insulated blankets to keep it from freezing so archaeologists can continue to work through the winter, Dwyer told about 20 people gathered Tuesday for a neighborhood update on the project.
At this point, MnDOT doesn't know how long the process is going to take, she said. The agency plans to bring in more archaeologists in the coming months who have the needed expertise, Dwyer said, explaining that there's "a crunch" right now for available archaeologists familiar with this type of work, many of whom are performing research for Enbridge Energy.
In response to a resident's question about why MnDOT was funding everything needed for the archaeological work at the site, Dwyer responded, "MnDOT is the one that did not do the consultation and is responsible. ... There's some issues with our process and we're checking into those. We're here to see how we can move forward together."
On May 26, two weeks into road construction, MnDOT stopped work on the bridge and road project after the Fond du Lac Band raised concerns about the cemetery. Further inspection of the site found human remains on June 6. The band learned about the project from a community member after work had begun, the band said in June. During an open house in June, MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle said the agency took responsibility for disturbing the burial site, which he said was "an incredibly horrific event."
At an open house in August, MnDOT said that it was working to redesign the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also revoked its permit for the bridge portion of the project due to the disturbance of the burial site.
The state is paying for Fond du Lac police to provide security at the site while allowing tribal members to provide offerings. Dwyer was told at the meeting that several residents have seen someone wearing a headlamp at night, possibly looking for artifacts, in the vacant lot where the archaeologists are working as well as at the fence bordering the construction site.
Residents also said they were concerned about people speeding through the area, with some asking for additional police patrols and signs warning of work zone fines for drivers.
In response to a resident questioning why the Minnesota State Patrol can't provide security while giving out speeding tickets instead of Fond du Lac police, Dwyer responded, "They are there to look at the site and to allow the appropriate people onto the site. That is a Native site and so Fond du Lac will be the security there."