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How to Apply for Right-of-Way

The Bureau of Indian Affairs grants rights-of-ways for trust, restricted fee, and allotted lands.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the oldest agency of the Department of the Interior and is charged with federal trust responsibilities that play a significant role in the management of Tribal lands and natural resources.   

BIA has fiduciary responsibility to Indian landowners to protect and conserve the resources on trust, restricted fee, and allotted land—including the land itself. The federal trust responsibility includes a duty on the part of the United States to protect treaty rights, lands, assets, and resource on behalf of Tribes, Tribal members and Indian landowners. 

The approval of rights-of-way (ROW) helps BIA regulate the appropriate use and development of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) lands to ensure the effective management of resources and protect land, assets, and resources against the illegal misuse of property on behalf of Tribes and Indian landowners.

What You Need

All applicants must complete the BIA ROW Application and submit the required supporting documentation to a BIA office where the project is located. 

If your application is incomplete, we will inform you and provide an explanation of what needs to be completed. You must then resubmit a completed version of your application.

Applicant Eligibility  

An applicant (known as a ROW grantee) can be an individual, Tribe or Tribal utility or a private company such as utility company, or other federal, state, or municipal entity. 

Land Eligibility 

A ROW may be requested to access Tribal trust land or restricted fee land that is subject to federal restrictions against the alienation (i.e., sale or transfer) or encumbrance (i.e., lien, leases, etc.) by operation of law of interest in the property.  

BIA may set conditions and restrictions agreed to by the landowners with any ROW. Most ROWs are granted with owners’ consent by the Secretary of the Interior, pursuant to the Act of February 5, 1948 (25 U.S.C. §§ 323-328). The Secretary may also approve owner-granted ROWs, pursuant to the Indian Land Consolidation Act. 

The grant is issued as an easement that creates an interest in the land, may be protected against third parties, and cannot be terminated at will by the AI/AN landowner or Tribe. 

Project Eligibility 

ROW can be granted for various kinds of projects: 

  • Railroads 
  • Public roads and highways 
  • Access roads 
  • Service roads and trails  
  • Public and community water lines 
  • Public sanitary and storm sewer lines 
  • Water control and use projects 
  • Oil and gas pipelines 
  • Electric transmission and distribution systems 
  • Telecommunications, broadband, and fiber optics 
  • Navigation hazard easements 
  • Conservation easements 

Expedited Processing  

The ROW on Indian Land final rule provide a uniform system for granting ROW over Indian trust land land, while giving AI/AN landowners and Tribes as much flexibility and control as possible. It directs BIA to defer to individual Indian landowners in their land determinations including which rights-of-way to grant and how much compensation is reasonable. 

The regulations streamline the process for obtaining a ROW, simplify requirements for applicants, and clarify Tribal jurisdiction over lands subject to a ROW by: 

  • Eliminating the need for consent from BIA for surveying activities
  • Establishing regulatory timelines for BIA’s review of ROW requests
  • Requiring compelling reasons for BIA to deny a ROW application

Fees

Your BIA Regional Office and/or Agency Office may require an administrative fee. BIA  isn’t responsible for application preparation costs.

How to Apply

By Mail

The ROW request must be in writing and submitted to the BIA Regional and/or Agency office where the land is located.

Applicants are required to submit completed application packages via postal mail.

Steps  

  1. Download and complete the BIA ROW Application form.
  2. Gather the required documentation listed on the second page of the form.
  3. Submit your application form and documentation to the BIA Regional Office and/or Agency Office that oversees the land.

Next Steps

Applicants will receive an acknowledgement letter no more than five business days after their application is received by BIA.  

To be considered a complete application, you must submit all required supporting documents and materials necessary for your application. If your application is incomplete, we’ll inform you and provide an explanation of what’s missing. You must then resubmit a complete version of your application.  

It can take up to 60 days for BIA to give final approval for an application and grant a ROW in most cases. 

However, broadband ROW application approval must occur immediately upon making the determination that the application is complete. 

View a flowchart of the ROW process.

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