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Corps grants permit for south protest area but not land north of Cannonball River

BISMARCK -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a special use permit Friday to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to use Corps land south of the Cannonball River near Lake Oahe to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

BISMARCK - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a special use permit Friday to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to use Corps land south of the Cannonball River near Lake Oahe to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

But the Corps didn't act on the tribe's permit request to use the land that supports the main overflow camp north of the river where thousands of self-described "water protectors" have been staying for weeks, leaving that area of the protest camp in limbo.

In a statement late Friday, the Corps said Omaha District Commander Col. John W. Henderson informed Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II that the tribe's "spiritual gathering" located south of the river was granted a permit for a lawful free speech demonstration on federal lands.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a deep respect for the traditions, culture, and concerns of all Native American Tribes, and we are committed to strengthening our enduring partnership with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe," Henderson said.

"Thousands of people have peacefully gathered in prayer and solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline," Archambault said in the Corps' statement. "We appreciate the cooperation of the Corps in protecting the First Amendment rights of all water protectors."

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However, while the Corps granted the tribe's request to use the lands south of the river, it didn't act on the tribe's request to use the land north of the river because it's subject to an existing grazing lease.

Corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson said protesters on the northern land are encouraged to relocate or obtain liability insurance, which the tribe has for the southern land, near where the original Camp of the Sacred Stones was located before the overflow camp formed to the north. But she said it's unlikely they could get insurance for the northern land without a Corps permit.

"If they continue to use it, they're using it at their own risk," she said.

The Corps said additional permission will be required for activities such as construction, either temporary or permanent, of any structures within areas identified in the permit.

"Among our many diverse missions is managing and conserving our natural resources. I want to encourage those who are using the permitted area to be good stewards and help us to protect these valuable resources," Henderson said.

In exchange for the temporary use of federal lands for lawful purposes, the Corps said the applicant "assumes responsibility for maintenance, damage and restoration costs, ensures the health, welfare, safety, supervision, and security of participants and spectators, and provides liability insurance.

"This permit requires that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe work with its supporters to ensure that the land is restored to its previous state so that others may benefit from use in the future," the agency said.

The Corps could issue citations for unauthorized structures or unpermitted camping on the northern land, but Williamson said she doesn't know if the agency intends to do so, saying its enforcement authority is limited.

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"It's a very difficult situation, and I think the permit is the first step," she said.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., called it "a good compromise."

"It protects the protesters' right to assemble and free speech, while at the same time protecting legal commerce to go forward. It sets up parameters and certainly puts liability where liability belongs, with the protesters and the leaders of the protest movement," Cramer said in a statement.

The tribe is suing the Corps over permits issued for the $3.8 billion pipeline, which will cross Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

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