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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves Dakota Access river crossing permits

BISMARCK—The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved most of the final permits necessary to construct the Dakota Access pipeline.

Eileen Williamson, a spokeswoman for the corps' Omaha District, said the agency approved 200 water crossings and three Section 408 easements allowing the pipeline to cross corps property along its route.

The $3.8 billion, 1,168 mile underground pipeline will begin the Bakken region of North Dakota, cross a section of South Dakota, traverse 18 counties in Iowa and end in Illinois.

Those three easements are for crossings of Lake Oahe, Laka Sakakawea and the Mississippi River. The Lake Oahe crossing will require the use of horizontal directional drilling, and Congress must be notified before drilling begins. Environmental assessments required for the easements are expected to become publicly available Wednesday.

The pipeline developer, Energy Transfer Partners, still needs approval for two more easements, one in South Dakota and two in Illinois, which Williamson said are in various stages of the process.

"We can now move forward with construction in all areas as quickly as possible in order to limit construction activities to one growing season and be in service by the end of this year," Lisa Dillinger, a spokeswoman for the project, said in an email.

Supporters applauded the approval. But for the occupiers of a protest spirit camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the fight to protect water and land from a possible oil spill is not over.

"Expect resistance," Joye Braun, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said in response to the corps' decision.

Braun is at the Spirit Camp near Cannon Ball, where Plains Indians have been praying and gathering for months to force the corps to give the easement the highest level of environmental review, including a full consultation with the tribes, rather than the less rigorous assessment it conducted for the pipeline's water crossings.

"(The pipeline) won't cross," Braun said. "I have faith in prayer and in our people, and that human and animal rights and everything here will be protected."

The Corps' approval was met with a mix of criticism and praise in Iowa, where permits were also approved..

"Today's decision from the Army Corps isn't a surprise," said a statement from Cherie Mortice, president of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. "It has been 'business as usual' for Iowa and federal regulators — putting corporate interests ahead of the common good and our land."

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Bold Iowa said in statements they plan to pursue non-violent civil disobedience to delay and halt the pipeline.

"We'll continue to fight tooth and nail — this is not a done deal," Adam Mason, state policy director at Iowa CCI said in the statement. "We need to leave this oil in the ground and turn the corner to true renewable energies like wind and solar that will create good jobs, protect our environment and build our communities."

On the other hand, the Midwest Alliance for the Infrastructure Now coalition applauded the permit approvals.

"As a local farmer, I have long supported construction of this project and am pleased that today it becomes a reality," the group's chairman, Ed Wiederstein, said in a statement. "It will provide untold benefits to the security of our nation and our economic future. The agriculture industry, in particular, relies on affordable, easy to access energy and the Dakota Access project will provide value for decades to come for the thousands of farmers across our region."

The Cedar Rapids Gazette contributed to this report