- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2017

A federal judge denied Monday a request by American Indian tribes to block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline’s final leg, dealing a major setback to opponents as the project nears completion after months of delays.

U.S. District Court Judge James A. Boasberg rejected the motion for a temporary restraining order filed by the Cheyenne River Sioux and the Standing Rock Sioux based on religious freedom grounds.

At the same time, the judge ordered Energy Transfer Partners to provide an update on Feb. 21 and every Monday thereafter as to when the pipeline will begin moving oil under Lake Oahe from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota to the oil storage hub of Patoka, Illinois.

Judge Boasberg also scheduled a hearing for Feb. 27 on a request for a preliminary injunction pending a lawsuit, according to a court document filed on Public Access to Court Electronic Records.

Energy Transfer Partners restarted construction last week on the final 1,100-foot segment of the project alongside a natural gas pipeline at Lake Oahe and the Missouri River shortly after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a much-delayed easement.

The company has estimated that the pipeline will be in service by May 1, after 60 days to finish the remaining sliver of the pipeline, which is 99 percent complete, and another 23 days to fill the pipeline to Patoka.

In their motion, the tribes argued that the waters of Lake Oahe are sacred to the Sioux, or Lakota, and that the existence of the pipeline, or “black snake,” will “desecrate those waters and render them unsuitable for ruse in their religious sacraments.”

“Without access to natural, unadulterated, and ritually pure water, the Lakota people cannot practice their religion,” the motion said. “As Lake Oahe is the only natural, unadulterated, and ritually pure water available to the Tribe — a trust resource for which the United States owes the Tribe a fiduciary duty — desecration of these waters represents a substantial burden on the Tribe’s religious exercise,” the motion says.

The Army Corps of Engineers argued that the tribes failed to show that they would suffer “any injury, much less an imminent irreparable injury, from either the mere conveyance of a real estate interest or the construction of a pipeline that will contain no oil for at least 53 days.”

The corps, represented by the Justice Department, also argued that the religious desecration objections had not been raised before and that the requirement for legal timeliness “bars the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from raising such an argument at this late juncture.”

The lake and its surroundings are already used for a number of industrial purposes. The Dakota Access pipeline is slated to track the Northern Border Gas Pipeline, which launched in 1982, and “an oil refinery is located on the Missouri River and several pipelines cross the river upstream of the Cheyenne River Reservation,” said the corps.

A wastewater plant discharges into a creek that flows through the Cheyenne River reservation and into Lake Oahe.

The corps issued an easement in July that was delayed and then withdrawn under the Obama administration after protesters descended on southern North Dakota in an effort to stop the pipeline.

President Trump issued a memorandum last month to expedite the project, prompting the cancellation of an additional environmental review.

The corps spent two years reviewing the $3.8 billion pipeline before issuing an approval, but the Standing Rock Sioux has argued that the project imperils the tribe’s water quality. The pipeline runs about a half-mile from the reservation.

“It’s not a matter of IF pipelines break, it’s a matter of WHEN,” the Standing Rock Sioux said in a Monday post on Facebook. “We all have a role to play, in doing whatever it takes to reverse what has been done.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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