Nathan Williams spends a lot of time around pipeline construction sites these days.
But he’s not just spending idle time there. He’s one of three Alabama-Coushatta tribal monitors playing a key role as TransCanada builds the Houston Lateral, a 48-mile (77-kilometer), 36-inch diameter crude oil pipeline under construction in Liberty County, Texas, just east of the Houston metropolitan area.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe provides awareness, knowledge and information on the significance of the land that enhances TransCanada’s understanding of the Coushatta community. The tribe arrived in Texas in 1807 and was later placed on a reservation in Livingston, a town in East Texas. This unique tribe of people inhabited the east bank of the Trinity River, currently Liberty County.
Williams and other tribal monitors on the Houston Lateral Pipeline Project were hired by TransCanada to monitor areas during the grading and trenching activities related to construction. These areas have cultural significance and were identified as a result of cultural resource surveys TransCanada conducted for the project.
“The Houston Lateral Project gives us a chance to monitor an area where our ancestors lived. A lot of Native American trails run through this area. If we find an area of significance, we hold a tribal ceremony.”
— Nathan Williams, Alabama-Coushatta tribal monitor on TransCanada’s Houston Lateral Project
Monitors also have the opportunity to work one on one with John Steward, Houston Lateral construction project manager. In 2010 and 2011, Steward worked with more than six different tribes and more than 35 tribal monitors on other projects.
“To hold a great relationship with the surrounding tribes in the area, TransCanada also wants to ensure if any unanticipated discoveries are found, we have the right representatives in the area that will be able to handle the situation professionally,” says Steward.
The traditional knowledge and special expertise of the tribe regarding land uses along the San Jacinto River — including the old Spanish trails constructed by Native Americans — help TransCanada avoid any unnecessary impacts as the Houston Lateral is being built.
The role of tribal monitors
As part of the construction team, the tribal monitors are required to participate in the safety and environmental training on site, as well as in tailgate meetings. They are crossed-trained in a number of areas, including wild land fire, heritage resource archeology and first aid, as well as having college degrees in a variety of disciplines.
“I include them as a part of our team and listen to whatever concerns they may have,” notes Steward. “I feel communication with all tribal members is important and work to make sure they are kept up to date on all activities on the job site.”
The tribal monitoring program is administered through TransCanada’s regional tribal liaison, lead environmental inspectors and the Houston Lateral project team. Monitors are required to adhere to a Tribal Monitoring Plan and report daily and weekly activities that identify the areas and activities monitored that week, issues or concerns that were encountered and how the issue was resolved.
“We work side by side with many individuals of indigenous ancestry. Our formal policies — which recognize the legal, social and economic realities of indigenous communities across the United States — are based upon the principles of trust, respect and responsibility.”
— Lou Thompson, manager of Tribal Relations for TransCanada
The Alabama-Coushatta tribal monitors also team up with the project’s archaeologists from Steven W. Carothers & Associates (SWCA) Environmental Consultants. SWCA provides comprehensive environmental planning, regulatory compliance and natural and cultural resource management services to businesses and government clients across the United States.
“This is probably one of the largest infrastructure projects I’ve worked on,” says Steve Carpenter, SWCA project archaeologist and principal investigator. “TransCanada hired us to assess and preserve the cultural heritage of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. A lot of this goes back to TransCanada’s efforts to address everyone’s concerns.”
Once the Houston Lateral Project goes into service in early 2015, the pipeline will become part of the Keystone Pipeline system. providing access to the refinery complex in the Greater Houston area.
TransCanada strives to create employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Native American communities along our pipeline routes. Last year, we spent more than $50 million in contracting and hiring in Aboriginal and Native American communities across North America.