Threats put Bakken pipeline work on hold at North Dakota site
Tribal chairman says violence diminishes power of protests
CANNON BALL, N.D. — The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe called for peace Wednesday as protests of the Dakota Access pipeline continue north of the reservation.
Chairman Dave Archambault II said he’s spreading the word among tribal members and hundreds who have come from out of state that violence diminishes the power of their message.
“There’s no place for threats, violence or criminal activity,” Archambault said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “That is simply not our way. The tribe will do all that it can to see that participants comply with the law and maintain peace.”
Pipeline construction has been halted in the area of the protest as law enforcement officers have encountered weapons, threats of pipe bombs and assaults on private security, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said at a news conference Wednesday. It’s unclear when it will be determined safe for work to continue.
“Things have been taken a little bit further and further every day,” Kirchmeier said.
Archambault said he expressed concerns Wednesday to Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven about Dakota Access and said that tribes have always had to endure the costs when it comes to economic development and national security.
“We haven’t been heard and it only creates trauma,” Archambault said. “Our senators who got to hear me today hopefully take the message back and say you can no longer do this to tribes.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, claims the federal agency failed to follow the law and consider the impacts of the pipeline on the tribe. A hearing is set for next Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
“The pipeline presents a threat to our land, our sacred sites, our water and to the people who will be affected,” Archambault said.
Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement to Forum News Service that oil pipelines are an important part of energy infrastructure as North Dakota reduces its reliance on moving crude by rail. But Dakota Access and other pipelines need to be thoroughly vetted, reviewed and include safeguards, she said.
“I’ll keep meeting with North Dakotans both for and against the Dakota Access Pipeline — including tribal members, producers, and any others who want to discuss this project,” Heitkamp said. “It’s critical that as federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers review energy infrastructure projects, they follow all applicable environmental requirements, and respect treaty rights as well as the need for proper consultation with tribal nations.”
Heitkamp added she plans to closely monitor the federal court proceedings to make sure the federal government meets its responsibilities, including giving tribal concerns a full and fair consideration.
Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement his office requested in April that the Corps consult with the tribe regarding Dakota Access. In response, the Corps sent Col. John Henderson to do site visits with the tribe, and the Corps allowed the tribe to submit additional comments on the project, Hoeven said.
“People have the right to safe and peaceful protest, but everyone must follow the law,” Hoeven said. “If the tribe feels that their input was not adequately addressed or they feel the Corps did not follow proper procedures, they have remedies available to them through the courts.”
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in an interview with Forum News Service that he was in regular contact with the Corps to make sure the process was moving along properly and the environmental assessment was getting done right.
“I really do understand the tribe’s concerns,” he said. “But I am very comfortable that the legal process has been very thorough and the consultation has been appropriate.”
Cramer, who considered pipeline applications as a former member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, said the pipeline is being constructed with several safeguards, including horizontal directional drilling at river crossings.
“Frankly, a river crossing is probably the safest pipe in the pipeline because there are so many contingencies they prepare for,” he said.
Tribal leaders have also reached out to President Barack Obama, who visited the reservation in 2014.
“If there’s any way that he could intervene and move this pipeline off our treaty lands, I’m asking him,” Archambault said.
Public Service Commission members defended the Dakota Access pipeline review process during their Wednesday meeting in Bismarck.
“This was something of high concern to the commission. Nobody wants to jeopardize our water resources in this country. We all depend on water,” said Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak. “This was carefully reviewed by us and carefully reviewed by the Corps of Engineers in providing the permits that were necessary to construct this line.”
Commissioner Brian Kalk said state regulators didn’t hear concerns being raised by the protesters during the public hearing process, which included a hearing in Mandan.
“These groups didn’t come to our hearings,” Kalk said.
Meanwhile, the North Dakota Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that Highway 1806 will be temporarily closed to southbound traffic 6 miles south of Mandan due to the protest. Only local traffic and emergency response vehicles will be allowed due the highway congestion and a large number of pedestrians and vehicles on the shoulders of the roadway.
Suspected protests have also impacted the pipeline’s progress in Iowa. Police suspect arson was the cause of three fires earlier this month that caused more than $1.5 million in damage to construction equipment being used to build the pipeline.
Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty said his office was investigating two fires reported Aug. 2 in Jasper County. The fires, which he said appear intentional, caused an estimated $1 million in damage to construction equipment.
“We believe it was intentionally set, we are investigating them as arson cases,” Halferty said.