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Burgum orders evacuation of pipeline protesters, stresses danger of spring flooding

An aerial view of the protest camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land at the confluence of the Missouri River and Cannonball River in southern Morton County North Dakota on February 13, 2017. The area is in a flood plain and must be clear of buildings and people who have been illegally camping to protest the nearby Dakota Access Pipeline. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune1 / 3
An aerial view of the main protest camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land at the confluence of the Missouri River and Cannonball River in southern Morton County North Dakota on February 13, 2017. The area is in a flood plain and must be clear of buildings and people who have been illegally camping to protest the nearby Dakota Access Pipeline. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune2 / 3
An aerial view of the protest camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land at the confluence of the Missouri River and Cannonball River in southern Morton County North Dakota on February 13, 2017. The area is in a flood plain and must be clear of buildings and people who have been illegally camping to protest the nearby Dakota Access Pipeline. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune3 / 3

BISMARCK—Stressing the dangers of spring flooding and the need to avoid environmental damage, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum ordered the mandatory evacuation of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Burgum's order requires the evacuation of everyone occupying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land adjacent to the Cannonball River in Morton and Sioux counties. It cites debris and human waste that was left behind by the monthslong protests that "pose a significant and increasing environmental threat to the waters of Missouri River if cleanup and removal efforts are not quickly accelerated and completed before flooding begins."

The order says anybody occupying the evacuation area must leave no later than 2 p.m. Feb. 22, and present occupants who begin removing personal property will be allowed to return through Feb. 21. The timeline is subject to modification, however, based on updates to the flood forecast by the National Weather Service, the order states.

The Corps granted a final easement to Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the $3.8 billion oil pipeline, earlier this month. The agency has said it would close remaining camps on federal land along the Cannonball River after Feb. 22, according to Reuters.

Burgum's predecessor, Jack Dalrymple, issued an emergency evacuation order on Nov. 28, but Burgum's order acknowledged that "large populations" have ignored that and a separate eviction order from the Corps from that month.

Burgum discussed his executive order and camp cleanup efforts during a press conference at the state Capitol late Wednesday afternoon.

Pressed on whether law enforcement would remove people who refuse to leave the camp, Burgum said it "is an option," but he hopes protesters leave on their own. He said "we don't have any interest in coming in and arresting people in the camp."

"It's not a preferred option, not a desired option, and we don't want anyone to try to be testing that option," Burgum said. "What we're interested in is life safety and environmental cleanup. And anybody that's sticking around hoping to get arrested at the end of this thing is probably someone who's not helping clean up the camp."

Burgum said cleanup is underway but needs to accelerate. He asked that camp leaders remove anything that might be considered culturally sensitive.

"This thing all started about protecting the water," Burgum said. "Let's just see if people really believe in what it's about and let's go get this thing cleaned up and get it cleaned up together."

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers will have a crew on site by the end of the week to assist in cleaning up the area of the pipeline protest camps, Sen. John Hoeven announced Wednesday.

The Corps notified Hoeven, R-N.D., the agency expects to have a crew on the ground by Thursday or Friday. The agency was still assessing how many people to send, according to Hoeven's office.

Thousands had come from across the country to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last year, but their numbers have dwindled since then. The tribe worries the oil pipeline would damage sacred sites and pollute drinking water if it leaked, but tribal leadership has asked for protesters to leave.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

(701) 255-5607
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