The Bluegrass Pipeline, a joint venture between Williams and Boardwalk Partners, would carry natural gas liquids through both Kentucky and Ohio.

Remains Found on Bluegrass Pipeline Route, Tribes Not Notified

Alysa Landry

Tribes with ancestral ties to Kentucky have not been consulted about an archaeological site discovered last summer during a survey for a natural gas pipeline.

In August, crews surveying a proposed route for the Bluegrass Pipeline stumbled on artifacts and human remains that are believed to be prehistoric. Although state land historically belonged to the Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasaw and Choctaw, none of the tribes were alerted when the discovery was made—or before the items were removed from the site.

Among the items found is a shard of bone that later was confirmed to be a fragment of a human skull. Artifacts including tools and other items also were collected from a rock shelter, said Nancy O’Malley, assistant director of the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky. Signs of ongoing looting prompted archaeologists to remove the items and send them to the museum for research and safe-keeping.

“We are holding a small quantity of artifacts, including a cranial fragment,” O’Malley said. “We are assuming they are prehistoric.”

The museum makes an inventory of all artifacts and human remains. That inventory is published periodically and federally recognized tribes are made aware of items that may be of interest.

More than six months after the discovery, however, tribes have not yet been invited into the conversation—and no one wants to take the blame.

“My experience is that when remains are found, law enforcement is called out and tribes are notified,” said Leslie Barras, a Louisville, Kentucky-based attorney whose practice includes historic preservation cases.

“Tribes don’t always want the remains removed, and here the tribes had no opportunity to express their views,” she said. “I feel the way this is handled is so disrespectful.”

The controversy began last summer when Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners—the two companies constructing the 27-inch-wide, 271-mile-long Bluegrass Pipeline—sent cultural resource surveyors to Hardin County, Kentucky, to look at a proposed route.


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benbarnes's picture
Submitted by benbarnes on
My name is Ben Barnes and I am the Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe. Having checked with our Tribe's NAGPRA representative and following up by called Mr. Blanchard at the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, no one from Kentucky or the Pipeline has notified our offices of any remains or funerary objects. I believe section 106 has been violated and possibly NAGPRA depending upon the status of the remains that were disturbed.