Pipeline protester: Removal imminent from company property

Posted at 10:31 AM, Oct 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-26 13:31:35-04

Protesters trying to halt construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota believe law enforcement officers could take quick action Wednesday to remove them from private land owned by the pipeline company.

Mekasi Camp Horinek said he and other protesters believe efforts to remove them could happen at any time, but "we're going to hold this ground." About 200 activists moved onto the site last weekend to fight the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline, which they fear could harm cultural sites and drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the $3.8 billion pipeline, said Tuesday that the protesters were trespassing and that "lawless behavior will not be tolerated." State Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong declined to comment Wednesday on any planned action to remove the protesters from the private land.

Protests supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's opposition to the pipeline have been ongoing for months, with more than 260 people arrested so far in North Dakota. The pipeline is slated to run through South Dakota and Iowa as it hauls oil from North Dakota to refineries in Illinois.

Local sheriff's officials had said they didn't have the resources to immediately remove activists from the private land, which is just north of the main protest camp on federal land near Cannon Ball, a town about 50 miles south of Bismarck. But officers said that could change as reinforcements arrived from other states.

The tribe has five ambulances on standby Wednesday, along with 32 emergency workers -- with no one allowed to take time off, tribal health director Margaret Gates said.

"Our concern is chaos," she said. "Our concern is for the safety and well-being of everybody. We don't know what's going to happen."

One notable clash came on Sept. 3, after construction crews removed topsoil from private land that protesters believe contained Native American burial and cultural sites. Authorities said four security guards and two guard dogs were injured. The tribe said protesters reported that six people were bitten by security dogs and at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed.

The state and pipeline company dispute that any sacred grounds have been disturbed during the construction.

North Dakota's Emergency Commission approved $6 million in emergency funding for law enforcement costs related to the protest -- but as of Wednesday, nearly all of that had been used up. The Department of Emergency Services plans to ask for more, Fong said.