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Standing Rock chairman applauds Obama’s comments about pipeline reroute

President Barack Obama participates in a "Get Out the Early Vote" campaign event for Hillary Clinton in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday night. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

BISMARCK – The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is applauding President Barack Obama’s comments about looking at rerouting the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and is calling on the administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt the project while the issue is being examined.

The president was asked about intervening in the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline during an interview with online news outlet NowThis.

“We’re monitoring this closely and, you know, I think as a general rule my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans,” Obama said. “And, you know, I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way. So, we’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.”

In a statement Wednesday, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II applauded Obama’s commitment “to protect our sacred lands, our water, and the water of 17 million others.”

“While the Army Corps of Engineers is examining this issue we call on the administration and the Corps to issue an immediate ‘stop work order’ on the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Archambault said. “And given the flawed process that has put our drinking water in jeopardy, we also urge the Administration to call for a full environmental impact study.

“The nation and the world are watching,” he continued. “The injustices done to Native people in North Dakota and throughout the country must be addressed. We believe President Obama and his Administration will do the right thing.”

The Corps is withholding an easement required for Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, to cross Corps land under and next to the Missouri River at Lake Oahe less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

“We are not aware that any consideration is being given to a reroute, and we remain confident we will receive our easement in a timely fashion,” company spokeswoman Vicki Anderson Granado said via email Wednesday.

Corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson said Wednesday morning the agency did not have a statement regarding the president’s remarks at this time.

On Sept. 9, minutes after a federal judge denied the tribe’s request for an injunction to halt the project, the Corps, Department of Justice and Department of Interior announced they would pause construction under the lake until the Corps could determine whether it needs to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the river crossing permit.

As recently as last week, the Justice Department reiterated its call for Dakota Access to voluntarily stop construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe until the Corps authorizes the lake crossing, but the company has continued construction.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Tuesday that construction on the pipeline in North Dakota could be finished by the end of this week, which would leave only the Corps land under and along the lake to complete.

Hundreds and sometimes thousands of pipeline opponents have been camping just north of the reservation since Aug. 10. Authorities have made more than 400 protest-related arrests so far, including 141 last Thursday as hundreds of law enforcement officers forced protesters from roadblocks and a camp set up in the pipeline’s path.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock tribal historian who founded the Sacred Stone Camp in April on her private land next to Lake Oahe within sight of the pipeline, said she expects construction to reach the river today “if they make it that far.”

Even though most of the pipeline route has been disturbed, Allard said “it’s never too late” to stop the project, and pipeline opponents are ready to ride out the winter if the issue drags on for several more weeks as Obama said.

“It’s a good political move for him, because he doesn’t have to make the decision and do anything because he’ll be out of office,” she said.

Obama calls for peace, restraint

Asked about the treatment of protesters, Obama said there’s an obligation for protesters to be peaceful and for authorities to show restraint.

“And I want to make sure that as everybody is exercising their constitutional rights to be heard, that both sides are refraining from situations that might result in people being hurt,” he said.

The company says the pipeline would safely move 470,000 barrels of Bakken crude daily from North Dakota to a hub in Patoka, Ill.

An Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman has said the current pipeline route was selected after “extensive” civil, environmental and archaeological surveys to mitigate the pipeline’s impact on the area and to determine the safest route for construction and operation of the pipeline.

An earlier route that Dakota Access considered but eliminated would have crossed the Missouri River 10 miles north of Bismarck instead of the current route that crosses Lake Oahe north of Cannon Ball. The company has not commented publicly on why it preferred the current route, and the Bismarck route was not discussed during the Public Service Commission review process.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers looked at the crossing north of Bismarck in its environmental assessment and concluded it was not a “viable alternative” for many reasons, including its proximity to wellhead source water protection areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells. The Bismarck route also would have been 11 miles longer and required crossing more waterbodies and wetlands as well as affecting additional acres of land, the Corps said.

In addition, that route was constrained by the Public Service Commission’s rule requiring a 500-foot buffer between pipelines and homes. The Bismarck route also would have crossed an area considered by federal pipeline regulators as a “high consequence area,” which is an area determined to have the most significant adverse consequences in the event of a pipeline spill.

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