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Appeals court orders temporary halt of pipeline construction near Lake Oahe

BISMARCK -- A federal appeals court on Friday ordered Dakota Access Pipeline to stop construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe to allow the court more time to consider the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for an emergency injunction.

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Aerial photograph taken Saturday over the Seven Councils Camp protest camp on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The people, over 2,000 reportedly, are protesting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK - A federal appeals court on Friday ordered Dakota Access Pipeline to stop construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe to allow the court more time to consider the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for an emergency injunction.

The tribe requested the emergency injunction after U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg last Friday denied its request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction on the four-state pipeline while the tribe's lawsuit is pending against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permitting the pipeline.

The tribe argued that a short-term injunction is needed to prevent further destruction of sacred sites within 20 miles on both sides of Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River.

In a temporary win for the tribe and other pipeline opponents, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals' District of Columbia Circuit granted the "administrative injunction" late Friday to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the matter. However, the one-page order said the action "should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion."

A future order will set a date and time for oral arguments on the motion for the emergency injunction pending appeal.

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The Corps of Engineers had asked the judge to deny the tribe's request for an emergency injunction. But the Corps also noted that it has paused construction of the pipeline at Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it should reconsider its previous decisions about the lake crossing under the National Environmental Policy Act or other laws.

The Corps, U.S. Department of Justice and Department of the Interior also asked Dakota Access LLC to voluntarily pause all construction activity with 20 miles of Lake Oahe, and the Corps said it wouldn't oppose a court order pausing construction activity within that area "if all parties to this appeal consent to that injunction."

Dakota Access said in a court filing that all construction starting 20 miles east of Lake Oahe is completed, and to the west, all but the two miles closest to the lake have been cleared and graded. The pipeline also is strung and nearly installed up to Highway 6, about 17 miles west of the lake.

Granting the injunction would threaten the entire $3.8 billion project at a point when construction is nearing completion, the company said.

The tribe contends that the Corps permitted the pipeline in violation of federal law, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and that the pipeline threatens the tribe's drinking water supply. But Boasberg wrote that the Corps had likely complied with the act and that the tribe had not shown it would suffer any injury that would be prevented by an injunction.

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