The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has notified the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that it intends to issue a 50-foot-wide easement for the Dakota Access pipeline for a term of 30 years at the disputed Lake Oahe crossing and that it will waive the 14-day waiting period after notification.
“The Corps intends to execute this easement at a time that is mutually convenient to the Corps and the company, no earlier than 24 hours following delivery of this notification letter,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Paul D. Cramer wrote in a letter spelling out the parameters of the easement.
Cramer further laid out other requirements in his letter.
The company must mitigate all damage done during construction and restore and reclaim the vegetation when it is done. They must obey all applicable laws related to construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline, as well as follow federal and state safety standards.
The pipeline must be supervised at reasonable intervals and immediately repaired if any defects or leaks are found, and plans are required that outline the response process to any spills.
Special easement conditions include responsibilities for commitments and mitigation measures outlined in the final Environmental Assessment, and consideration of Army comments prior to submission of a facility and geographical response plans and spill models.
The pipeline ran aground last year at the Lake Oahe crossing after members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began a protest, concerned that their water, sacred sites and treaty rights would not be adequately protected. National environmental groups subsequently joined the fray, hoping to stop the pipeline altogether.
Members of the tribe said Tuesday they remain undaunted, and vowed to continue fighting against the pipeline through the legal system.
“The drinking water of millions of Americans is now at risk,” Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said. “We are a sovereign nation and will fight to protect our water and sacred places from the brazen private interests trying to push this pipeline through to benefit a few wealthy Americans with financial ties to the Trump administration.”
Archambault said Americans want to see a fair, balanced, lawful pipeline process.
“The environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated,” he said. “This pipeline was unfairly rerouted across our treaty lands. The Trump administration — yet again — is poised to set a precedent that defies the law and the will of Americans and our allies around the world.”
Members of the Standing Rock Tribe said the reversal continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian tribes, and said they will continue to push for their treaty rights to be acknowledged and protected.
The Tribe plans a Native Nations march on Washington D.C. March 10.
“We ask that our allies join us in demanding that Congress demand a fair and accurate process,” he said. “Our fight is no longer at the North Dakota site itself. Our fight is with Congress and the Trump administration.”
Industry groups, meanwhile, argue that Dakota Access was lawfully permitted, and that two federal courts had already signed off on the process used to site it.
“This is the only reasonable option for a lawfully permitted pipeline that is 97 percent complete, and will provide a safer alternative to rail,” said Kevin Pranis, marketing manager for the Laborers Union International of North America. The union has a number of members who are working on the pipeline. “Fortunately Dakota Access was built by skilled union craftsmen and women working with strong oversight of Federal regulators, so we’re confident that Energy Transfer Partners will prove the critics wrong by operating a safe pipeline.”
Craig Stevens, spokesman for the MAIN Coalition, which supports infrastructure projects, said issuing the easement for a pipeline that has met all required parameters is what the law requires in this case.
“We’re pleased that the Trump administration has followed the counsel of the Army Corps of Engineers and the letter of the law by indicating its intention to issue the final easement for the Dakota Access pipeline,” he said. “Today’s action sends a strong positive signal to those individuals and companies seeking to invest in the U.S. and will help strengthen our economy and create jobs.”
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the pipeline is being built with the latest safeguards and technology and is infrastructure vital to national energy independence.
“Our nation needs new energy infrastructure, which means we must have a process to build safe, efficient and environmentally sound projects like pipelines and power lines,” he said. “Going forward, we need to review the permitting process to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard, and that a fair, certain and legal process has been followed.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., meanwhile said it was past time for a decision to be issued.
“For the North Dakota families, workers and tribes who have felt the impact of the Dakota Access pipeline conflict every day — today’s announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brings this issue one step closer to final resolution — and delivers the certainty and clarity I’ve been demanding.”
Hoeven and Heitkamp both said they are pressing for law enforcement resources and personnel to support authorities in Morton County. North Dakota has spent in excess of $22 million since the protest began.
Additional Bureau of Indian Affairs officers have been sent to the site recently to assist, as members of the Standing Rock Tribe have voted to close the three protest camps because they lie in a floodplain.