State officials could halt work on an interstate natural gas pipeline if the company building the line does not make a better effort to protect archaeologically sensitive sites along the proposed route.

Max Evans, director of the Utah Division of State History, said assistant Utah attorneys general have been advised to inform representatives of the Kern River Pipeline Company that action against the company is pending unless steps are taken to ensure the company does not repeat the mistakes that led to damage of three archaeological sites in recent months.Evans said state action could involve issuance of a cease-and-desist order on construction or possibly formal litigation.

"We've tried to work with the company, but they have not been willing to work with us and understand the law," Evans told the Utah State Board of History. "They (Kern River) do not have the needed approvals with the State Lands and Forestry Division and therefore the permits we have issued are not valid."

Evans said conditions on the permits issued by the Division of State History make the validity of the permits contingent on receipt of written approval from the involved property owners. "If written permission is not received, the permits are not valid."

A Kern River official said he has had no such contact from the state.

"As far as we know, we have all the permits needed to conduct activities Utah," said Cuba Wadlington, executive vice president. "I find this interesting. They have not advised us of any problem. We have worked very closely with the state archaeologist on all activities dealing with archaeology."

Wadlington said the company has not been invited to any meeting to discuss problems or received any notice of non-compliance.

The division contacted the attorney general's office following difficulties in working with the company.

"We're very concerned that the company doesn't even appear to care," said Thomas Alexander, a history board member.

Evans said the company may find itself facing felony criminal charges if it fails to take corrective actions.

"The first time there is a violation it is a misdemeanor offense," Evans said. "After that it becomes a felony."

Excavators damaged three archaeological sites in Iron county in February, including one that was being considered for inclusion on the national historic register. At first, the company claimed only one site was affected and that damage was minimal. The company later acknowledged that three sites were affected but continued to claim only minor damage was involved.

Evans said the company has hired a consulting engineer to identify archaeological sites along the construction route. He said it appeared the damage might not have been properly marked.

Once identified, the company is supposed to halt work until a mitigation plan to minimize disturbance can be worked out. The Division of State History oversees the development and implementation of those mitigation plans for the federal government.

Kern River is building a high-pressure natural gas pipeline that will run from southwest Wyoming to Kern County California. The plan first raised controversy in Utah two years ago when the company announced plans to bring the pipeline across the Wasatch Mountains in an area near Centerville and then run it along the bench above Bountiful.