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Pipeline company says it will promptly resume work near Lake Oahe, wants feds help with protests

BISMARCK – Going against the wishes of three federal agencies, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline said Tuesday, Oct. 11, it plans to promptly resume construction near Lake Oahe and hopes the feds will assist local authorities dealing with protests of the four-state pipeline.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners released a statement saying it was pleased with a federal appeals court decision Sunday denying the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an emergency injunction to stop construction of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline that will carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois.

The three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., also lifted a temporary suspension of construction activities within 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River.

“In light of Sunday’s court decision, Dakota Access looks forward to a prompt resumption of construction activities east and west of Lake Oahe on private land. We reiterate our commitment to protect cultural resources, the environment and public safety,” the company said.

Company spokeswoman Vicki Granado declined to specify when the company will resume work in the 20-mile area, which includes the area along Highway 1806 where protest activities to block pipeline construction began Aug. 10. An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 American Indians and other pipeline opponents are encamped along the highway and have drawn international support.

Cody Hall, a spokesman for the Red Warrior Camp, said the nonviolent direct actions will continue against the pipeline despite the court ruling.

“They’ve been planning different things to stop the construction. They’ve been at it for weeks now,” he said. He said he wasn’t privy to what actions are planned.

Energy Transfer Partners urged that any protests “be undertaken in a peaceful and law abiding manner.” Authorities arrested 27 protesters at two construction sites Monday, including actress Shailene Woodley – the most arrests so far in one day, bringing the total number of arrests to 123. Several face felonies for attaching themselves to construction equipment.

“All construction efforts will be undertaken in close coordination with state and local law enforcement officials, and we are hopeful their law enforcement efforts will be supplemented by those of the federal government,” the company said.

State officials and lawmakers have decried the lack of financial and law enforcement support from the federal government, given that the Corps is withholding the easement and allowing protesters to camp on Corps-owned land. The state Emergency Commission voted last month to borrow up to $6 million from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to cover overtime and other protest-related costs, and Monday’s response involved deputies from Wisconsin – the first time out-of-state officers have been used.

The proposed construction area includes a stretch west of Highway 1806 that was bulldozed on Sept. 3, the day after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed court documents identifying burial grounds and other sacred sites in that area. Angry protesters clashed with the pipeline’s private security, with both sides claiming injuries, and a joint law enforcement task force is investigating the incident.

Last week, state archeologists concluded that no sacred sites were destroyed, but the tribe disputes that conclusion because its historic preservation officer wasn’t allowed to participate in the survey.

The tribe’s ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contends the agency didn’t properly consult the tribe before granting permits for the project. In a statement Tuesday, tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II called on President Barack Obama to “do right by our people and deny all permits for the pipeline.”

“Because of a failed process by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we have experienced unimaginable losses. Energy Transfer Partners knowingly bulldozed over the burials of our Lakota and Dakota ancestors,” Archambault said.

Energy Transfer Partners said the decisions by two separate federal courts show the Corps acted with “great care” with respect to the river crossing permits.

“The Army Corps and Dakota Access carefully considered the views of all potentially affected tribes that chose to participate in the consultative process prescribed by Congress, and fully complied with both the letter and the spirit of the National Historic Preservation Act,” the company said.

The pipeline was 87 percent completed in North Dakota at the end of September and is largely finished in South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

“We continue to believe that the Army Corps will soon issue the easement for approximately 1,100 feet necessary for the crossing beneath the Missouri River – the sole remaining authorization necessary for completion of the project,” the company said.

The Corps issued a joint statement Monday with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Interior Department, saying it won’t authorize construction on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it finishes reviewing issues raised by the tribe. The three agencies asked the company to voluntarily pause construction within 20 miles of the lake.

The agencies were scheduled to hold the first of seven consultation sessions Tuesday evening in Phoenix on how the federal government can better allow for timely and meaningful tribal input on infrastructure projects. Archambault called it “a critical opportunity to inform the process moving forward so that other tribes don’t suffer the same losses as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”