Deadline looms for Dakota Access pipeline protest camp

Associated Press

As dawn breaks over an encampment that was once home to thousands of people protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline, a few hundred holdouts rise for another day of resistance.

They aren't deterred by the threat of flooding, nor by declarations from state and federal authorities that they must leave by Wednesday or face possible arrest. They're determined to remain and fight a pipeline they maintain threatens the very sanctity of the land.

"If we don't stand now, when will we?" said Tiffanie Pieper, of San Diego, who has been in the camp most of the winter.

Protesters have been at the campsite since August to fight the $3.8 billion pipeline that will carry oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners began work on the last big section of the pipeline this month after the Army gave it permission to lay pipe under a reservoir on the Missouri River. The protest camp is on Army Corps of Engineers land nearby.

The protests have been led by Native American tribes, particularly the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, whose reservation is downstream. They say the pipeline threatens drinking water and cultural sites. ETP disputes that.

Faced with the prospect of spring flooding, some protesters are considering moving to higher ground, though not necessarily off the federal land. Some may move to the Standing Rock Reservation, where the Cheyenne River Sioux is leasing land to provide camping space even though Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault has urged protesters to leave.

"We have the same goals," Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier said of himself and Archambault. "We don't agree on whether or not the water protectors should be on the ground."

On Monday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum talked with Archambault on the telephone about efforts to clean up and vacate the protest camp, Burgum's office said. Burgum and Archambault both stressed the importance of keeping lines of communication open, including a one-page flyer that the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs will distribute in the camp, reminding protesters that the main camp will be evacuated at 2 p.m. Wednesday and re-entry will not be allowed, Burgum's office said.

Archambault said Monday he continues to ask that there be no forced removal of remaining campers. He said the state has notified the tribe that law enforcement will enter the camp Wednesday and "will peacefully ask those to vacate."

"We ask that everyone keep public safety their top priority at this time," Archambault said in an email to The Associated Press.

More than 230 truckloads of debris have been hauled out as of Monday, according to the governor's office. Archambault said plans call for continuing the cleanup after Wednesday.

Those urging the protesters to leave say they're concerned about possible flooding in the area as snow melts.

"The purpose of this is to close the land to ensure no one gets harmed," said Corps Capt. Ryan Hignight.

One concern is that floodwaters could wash tons of trash and debris at the encampment into the nearby rivers.

"One of the biggest environmental threats to the Missouri is the camp itself," Burgum said.

Many in camp think authorities are exaggerating the flood threat and trying to turn public sentiment against them.

"They're talking like it will be a flood that will wipe out all of existence," said Luke Black Elk, a Cheyenne River Sioux from South Dakota. Some flooding is likely, he said, but "most of it won't be that bad."

The camp has been the site of numerous and sometimes violent clashes between police and protesters who call themselves "water protectors," with more than 700 arrests. The camp's population has dwindled as the pipeline battle has largely moved into the courts.

Protesters who remain say they're prepared to be arrested, but will remain peaceful.

"We'll make it difficult for them to handcuff us, but there will be no forceful opposition," said Bryce Peppard, from Oregon.

The Corps and the governor say they would rather there were no arrests.

"The ideal situation is zero arrests are made because everybody figures out that it's not a place where you want to be when the flood starts to happen," Burgum said.

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