CANNON BALL, N.D. — A Native American leader asked thousands of protesters Monday to return home after the federal government sided with them and against construction of a missing link in the Dakota Access pipeline, despite the prospect of President-elect Donald Trump later reversing the decision.
A coalition of Native American groups, environmentalists, Hollywood stars and military veterans have protested the $3.8 billion oil project. They said construction would damage sacred lands and any leaks could pollute the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
The tribe wants to speak with Trump about the Dakota Access pipeline in hopes of preventing him from approving the final phase of construction, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said.
“The current administration did the right thing and we need to educate the incoming administration and help them understand the right decision was made,” he said.
Trump’s transition team said Monday it would review the Obama administration’s decision when he takes office.
“That’s something that we support construction of and we’ll review the full situation when we’re in the White House and make the appropriate determination at that time,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said at a transition team news briefing.
The chief executive of pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners, Kelcy Warren, donated to Trump’s campaign. The president-elect has investments in the group and in Phillips 66, another partner in the project.
As of Trump’s mid-2016 financial disclosure form, his stake in Energy Transfer was between $15,000 and $50,000, down from between $500,000 and $1 million in mid-2015. He had between $100,000 and $250,000 in shares of Phillips, according to federal forms.
Archambault said nothing would happen over the winter before Trump takes power on Jan. 20, so protesters should leave. Many are dug in for the winter.
“We’re thankful for everyone who joined this cause and stood with us,” he said. “The people who are supporting us ... they can return home and enjoy this winter with their families. Same with law enforcement. I am asking them to go.”
It was unclear if protesters would heed Archambault’s call to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp in Cannon Ball, N.D.
On Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers rejected an application for the pipeline to tunnel under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
The Corps said it would analyze possible alternate routes, although any is likely to cross the Missouri River.
On Monday, tribal leaders and hundreds of veterans walked to Backwater Bridge, one of the focal points of the protests, and offered prayers and chanted.
Several veterans said they had no plans to leave and suspected Sunday’s decision was a ruse to empty the camp.
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Energy Transfer Partners said it had no plans to reroute and expects to complete the 1,172-mile Dakota Access project, which is mostly done.
The Obama administration’s decision was a “political action”, the company said in a joint statement with Sunoco Logistics Partners.