ND takes action to close Dakota Access protest camp

By Patrick C. Miller | February 22, 2017

North Dakota authorities moved Wednesday on the deadline set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the main camp in south central North Dakota where a few hundred people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline remained.

According to news media reports, some protesters walked out of the camp peacefully while others set fire to structures and barricaded the entrance to the camp. During a morning meeting, camp leaders told North Dakota and Corps officials that some in the camp wouldn’t leave without being arrested.

Three North Dakota state agencies on Tuesday announced that they would provide free services to protesters who wanted to go home. At a travel assistance center in Bismarck, those who wanted to leave would receive a free health checkup; a personal hygiene kit; a voucher for a one-night stay at a Bismarck hotel; a meal voucher; a ride voucher to the bus depot; and a bus ticket to any location in the lower 48 states.

Work on the last stretch of the 1,172-mile-long, $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline resumed earlier this month after the Corps of Engineers—at the direction of a memo signed by President Donald Trump—issued an easement to Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline.

The pipeline will carry about a half million barrels a day of western North Dakota crude across South Dakota and Iowa to a terminal in Patoka, Illinois. It crosses the Missouri River under the Lake Oahe Reservoir just north of the Standing Rock Reservation. The tribe claims the pipeline is a threat to its drinking water and could damage culturally significant sites.

After a federal judge last year denied Standing Rock’s motion for a temporary restraining order to stop work on the project, the Obama administration intervened to withhold the river crossing easement the Corps had planned to issue. Protesters estimated to be in the thousands flocked to camps in south central North Dakota to demonstrate against the pipeline in confrontations with law enforcement that sometimes turned violent.  

Just before President Barack Obama left office last month, the Corps issued a notice that it planned to conduct an environmental impact statement which would have delayed the Dakota Access Pipeline project for more than a year. However, this notice was withdrawn by the Corps last week after being reviewed at Trump’s direction.

A hearing in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia is set for Feb. 27 on a motion for a summary judgement against the Corps of Engineers filed by EarthJustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Documents in the case filed by Energy Transfer Partners indicate that the pipeline could be operational within two weeks.

A week ago, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum issued an executive order for a mandatory evacuation of those occupying specific areas in Morton and Sioux counties under jurisdiction of the Corps. The order cited above-normal temperatures which created the potential for flooding along the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri rivers where the camps are located.

The governor’s order also said, “The presence of accumulated wasted, abandoned vehicles and unlawful temporary and permanent dwelling structures in this flood-prone area has created significant health and public safety risks as well as environmental hazards.”

Levi Bachmeier, a policy advisor for Burgum, and a Corps representative addressed camp leaders Tuesday afternoon.

“The first priority is the life, health and safety of everyone in this camp as it relates to potential flooding,” he said. “And the second is preventing an environmental disaster by getting this camp cleaned up as quickly as possible.”

Bachmeier requested that the camp be completely evacuated by 2 p.m. Wednesday and advised that those who remained faced arrest.

“We ask that you honor any and all requests made by law enforcement,” he said.