Most people would find it unacceptable if they had to travel 100 miles or more to cross a river in their community. That’s the situation for many on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
With the creation of Lake Oahe in 1958, transportation connections between the west side of the Missouri River, Sioux County, which comprises the reservation, and Emmons County to the east, were cut.
On the east side the nearest crossings are at Bismarck and Mobridge, S.D., more than 100 miles apart. On the west side, it's 115 miles from Bismarck to Mobridge.
That’s like traveling from Bismarck to Dickinson to get to Mandan.
There’s been discussion of building a bridge across Lake Oahe since the 1970s and the idea is being revived. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has applied for a $6.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to explore the possibility of a bridge.
The tribe wants to use the funding to have an environmental impact statement completed on a proposed crossing near Fort Yates. The impact statement process will likely take about six years before a full design and construction would be ready.
Tribal members opposed previous bridge proposals because of concerns about disruptions to burial sites and other cultural issues. Now there’s technology that allows for a complete search for these sites that have eased tribal concerns, according to Ron His Horse Is Thunder, director of transportation planning and development for the tribe. The federal government gave the OK for a bridge when Lake Oahe was created.
A bridge would provide several benefits for the area. It would offer an economic boost not just to the reservation but to farmers and ranchers who want to move commodities and livestock to markets. It would enhance emergency services, providing quicker access to those needing medical assistance. It would improve the quality of life by reducing travel time for the residents.
A bridge will be expensive, but after 60 years there should be a way to fund it. The Tribune Editorial Board believes the time has come to build a bridge if the tribe is comfortable with the results of the environmental impact statement. The tribe should know in November if they have been approved for the grant.
The Morton and Emmons county commissions have given their support for the grant. Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, Rep. Kevin Cramer and Tom Sorel, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, have sent letters of support for the grant.
Hopefully the grant will be approved and the tribe can move forward.