FORT YATES, N.D. -- Work is nearly complete on replacing a culvert and repairing a Standing Rock Reservation road that washed out in July and killed two South Dakota people who drove into the chasm.

Workers are almost done placing culvert pieces that arrived in the last couple of weeks, said Ron His Horse Is Thunder, director of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Transportation and Planning Department. Work was slowed by the availability of materials and delays in getting a culvert built for the project. The highway has to be resurfaced after the culvert pieces are in place.

“They’re telling us they will be done by Dec. 20 and that road will be open,” His Horse Is Thunder said.

Scouring by floodwaters from heavy overnight rain washed away a steel culvert and a 30-foot section of BIA Road 3, known locally as the Kenel Road. The road becomes Highway 1806 south of the North Dakota-South Dakota border and is heavily traveled.

Two people from Mobridge, S.D., died when they drove into the washout in the early morning hours of July 9. Trudy Peterson, 60, was on her way from Mobridge to Fort Yates to start a shift as a nurse in the dialysis unit at the Indian Health Services facility. Jim Vander Wal, 65, was headed south, about to end a mail run from Bismarck to Mobridge.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Rescue workers pulled to safety the driver of an empty bus owned by Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates. Another man was rescued from the back of his pickup.

The culvert that washed away had been identified for replacement seven years ago because it had started to bow. It was still solid and washed away in one piece, but it fell victim to erosion from 7 inches of rain. It’s being replaced with a double-cell concrete box culvert -- each cell 10 feet wide and 6 feet long -- which was made and hauled to the site one section at a time.

The project in April was bid at $1.45 million. The original plan was to leave the old culvert in place until a new one was installed. Since the culvert washed away, workers had to divert the water, adding time and cost to the project.

Workers before placing the culvert had to build a pad that would hold a crane big enough to lift and place the culvert sections, His Horse Is Thunder said. Work went well once the culvert sections arrived, he said.

The only change to the project was the decision to use concrete instead of asphalt for the driving surface. Asphalt plants have closed as colder weather has set in, His Horse Is Thunder said. The contractor can finish the project in coming weeks by using concrete. That saves a return trip in the spring.

About 565 vehicles traveled the highway per day before the washout, according to estimates from the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

The closure of the road has created extra traffic and wear on area gravel roads, including some in Corson County, S.D. The tribe provided stockpiled gravel, which Corson County workers hauled to the needed roads, His Horse Is Thunder said.