Gov. Jack Dalrymple had a message Saturday for the Obama administration: Don’t expect local and state law enforcement to do your dirty work by evicting the Dakota Access pipeline protesters.
The North Dakota Republican said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would need to take the lead after setting a Dec. 5 deadline to vacate protest camps located on federal property north of the Cannonball River, where hundreds if not thousands have been illegally camped for months.
“Our state and local law enforcement agencies continue to do all they can to keep private property and public infrastructure free from unpermitted protest activities, and it’s past time that the federal government provides the law enforcement resources needed to support public safety and to enforce their own order to vacate,” Mr. Dalrymple said in a statement.
He said he supports the decision to close the camp, but the state has already spent more than $10 million on additional law-enforcement costs while his pleas for federal assistance have gone largely unheeded.
“For more than 100 days now, the federal government has allowed protesters to illegally entrench themselves on Corps land and it is the federal government’s responsibility to lead the camp’s peaceful closure,” Mr. Dalrymple said.
Anyone who tries to remove the activists is all but guaranteed to take an enormous public-relations hit from environmentalists, Hollywood stars and media outlets sympathetic to the protest.
The three major television networks quoted foes of the project seven times more than opponents from Oct. 27 to Nov. 15, according to the conservative Media Research Center.
North Dakota law enforcement has been vilified for months for its response, with the ACLU and Amnesty International calling for a Justice Department investigation into possible civil-rights violations.
Local sheriffs have defended their use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, sound cannons and water hoses, saying they are deploying the least-lethal means possible as they grapple with activists who have set fires, blocked highways and bridges, and thrown rocks, flaming debris and Molotov cocktails at officers.
One woman was charged last month with attempted murder after firing three shots at deputies, all of which missed.
Already, pipeline foes are gearing up for a confrontation, vowing on social media to bring thousands of activists to the campsite and resist any efforts to remove them.
“The 5th of December is the day/We sit like stone and we pray,” said the Indigenous Life Movement in a post on Facebook.
Cheyenne River Sioux chairman Harold Frazier said the Corps had made a “dangerous and grave mistake” and urged the administration to reconsider its effort to remove the protesters.
“[E]ven if I could control the water protectors, I recognize and respect their rights under the Constitution to peaceably assemble in prayerful protest against the cultural and environmental atrocity that is the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said Mr. Frazier in a Friday letter to Corps commander Col. John W. Henderson.
The Corps has asked for the Standing Rock Sioux, which is leading the protest, to encourage occupiers to leave the area and assemble instead in the “free-speech zone” south of the Cannonball River, which is also federal land.
Mr. Dalrymple said the Obama administration has made the situation worse with its lengthy delays in issuing a previously approved easement for the pipeline, which is needed to finish the final 1,100 feet in North Dakota.
The 1,172-mile, four-state project, which would carry a half-million barrels of oil per day from the Bakken field to Illinois, is roughly 87 percent complete.