Morton County authorities on Wednesday arrested 76 Dakota Access protesters who had attempted to occupy new territory on higher ground that is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, and have once again closed the Backwater Bridge.
Rob Keller, a spokesman for Morton County, said law enforcement officers discussed the situation with individuals on Backwater Bridge Wednesday morning, in an effort to get the individuals to voluntarily disperse from what was being referred to as the “Last Child Camp” on the Oceti Sakowin Facebook page.
Chase Iron Eyes was among those law enforcement talked to on the bridge, Keller said, and told officers they would not leave the camp. Iron Eyes had called for continued and stronger protests in the area during Tribal Council meetings prior to a decision to close down all three of the protest camps because they are located in a floodplain.
Morton County authorities said they warned the group to leave multiple times, but after there were no signs the camp would be dismantled, police moved in to evict them at about 3:30 p.m. A large group of protesters attempted to block law enforcement from reaching the camp, but were moved back out of the way, albeit with a few arrests.
Those in what protesters are calling the “Last Child Camp,” were once again asked to vacate the premises, but refused, Morton County authorities said. Several protesters resisted arrest, Morton County authorities said, and used “active resistance” techniques.
The camp was cleared by about 4 p.m., Morton County authorities said. Representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe coordinated with law enforcement to collect teepee hides from the camp and return them to the reservation.
Arrestees were transported to Morton County Correctional Center, as well as several other facilities in North Dakota.
Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Morton County authorities showed great restraint in the face of verbal taunts and abuse.
“Our law enforcement officers conducted themselves in a safe and responsible manner,” he said. “Regardless of this incident, it is our desire to continue the dialogue with tribal and camp leaders so that the camps continue to be cleaned and protesters leave prior to the flooding season.”
The attempt to seize higher ground for the protest followed on recent orders from President Donald Trump to expedite issuing the final easement needed to complete the 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline, which ran aground last year after members of the tribe questioned whether their sacred sites and water would be adequately protected and national environmental groups joined the fray to stop the pipeline altogether.
North Dakota’s legislative delegation announced Tuesday that acting Secretary of the U.S. Army Robert Speer had notified Congress Tuesday that it intends to issue the disputed easement, which will allow Dakota Access to drill under Lake Oahe. However, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials walked that statement back, saying this did not mean the easement has been approved yet.
“The Army has initiated the steps outlined in the January 24 Presidential Directive, which directs the Acting Secretary of the Army to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline in compliance with the law,” U.S. Army Chief of Public Affairs Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost said. “The Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works will make a decision on the easement once a full review and analysis is completed in accordance with the directive.”
The company has already put some oil in the pipeline, and has aligned its drilling rigs so that it is ready to go as soon as it receives its easement, according to information contained in court documents related to the ongoing litigation surrounding the Bakken pipeline. It is now finished but for the Lake Oahe crossing, Dakota Access officials have said. Company officials claim that delays have cost the company in excess of $450 million.
The line is proposed carry up to 570,000 barrels of bakken crude daily to Illinois where it can more readily access the refineries that handle light sweet crude.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux issued a statement late Tuesday night vowing to fight any about-face on conducting the Environmental Impact Statement they have been requesting, and described Trump's move as arbitrary, without legal grounds to stand in court.
“We are not surprised to see North Dakota’s U.S. Sen. John Hoeven issued a statement prematurely championing Trump directives to grant an easement for illegal construction,” the release stated. “The Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army had directed the Army Corps to proceed with the final easement necessary to complete the proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is not a formal issuance of an easement.”
The Tribe believes the Army Corps lacks statutory authority to simply stop the Environmental Impact Statement now that it has begun.
“The Corps must review the Presidential Memorandum, notify Congress, and actually grant the easement. We have not received formal notice that the EIS has been suspended or withdrawn. To abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the President’s personal views, and potentially personal investments. We stand ready to fight against corporate interest superseding government procedure and the health and well-being of missions of Americans.”
The pipeline's supporters, meanwhile, have described former President Barack Obama's move to rescind the pipeline's approval and withhold its final easement in the same terms, pointing out a federal court twice ruled that all the procedures required of the company and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were followed, leaving no legal basis for denying the easements.
Industry leaders have said the Dakota Access pipeline is infrastructure vital to both the Bakken's future and national energy independence. Not only would it take thousands of trucks off the road, but it would lower the cost to ship Bakken crude by $7 a barrel, increasing the industry’s resilience.