North Dakota spent tens of millions of dollars grappling with activists who used federal land as a launch pad for repeated protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, and now state officials want the federal government to pay.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum asked President Trump for a major disaster declaration in order for the state to seek $38 million in reimbursement for expenses stemming from protests that ran from August to March.
The Republican governor also encouraged the administration to conduct a review of disaster declaration criteria “to include intentional human-made disasters,” saying that the months-long Dakota Access demonstration “underscored the changing nature of protests in America.”
“Passionate causes, millions of dollars of anonymous protest funding (over $13.5 million on GoFundMe.com alone) and sophisticated and inflammatory social media campaigns have forever changed the nature, duration, and reach of unlawful protests,” Mr. Burgum said in his letter on Saturday.
“Sadly, I believe this will become the new normal in America,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican, announced Monday that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved up to $15 million in federal funding to help with the state’s Dakota Access costs.
Thousands of activists flowed into makeshift camps erected on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ property starting in August, using the site as a staging area for demonstrations that included blocking highways, trespassing on private property and setting fires on roads and a bridge.
“This situation was complicated by political interference from the previous White House administration, providing a lawless base of operation on federal land,” Mr. Burgum said.
The Obama administration dragged out the protests by delaying and then revoking a previously issued easement allowing the final 1,100 feet of the 1,172-mile pipeline to run on the federally managed property under Lake Oahe.
Even so, the Corps failed to “enforce its regulations and maintain law and order on its property” near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in southern North Dakota, said the Republican governor.
“Such inaction requires supplemental Federal assistance to mitigate the disproportionate expense experienced by local governments and the state of North Dakota,” Mr. Burgum said in his letter.
The North Dakota lawmakers are likely to receive a friendlier reception under Mr. Trump, who issued a memorandum in January to expedite the pipeline review process, than under President Obama, who offered little in the way of federal assistance despite repeated pleas by state officials.
“The previous presidential administration restricted support from federal partners to technical and liaison work,” Mr. Burgum said.
The Standing Rock Sioux initially led the protests over concerns about the pipeline’s impact on water quality and historic relics as well as objections to the federal government’s tribal consultation process.
However, tribal chairman Dave Archambault II later urged the activists to leave as accumulated trash and debris threatened to wash into the Cannonball River during the spring melt.
The last of the camps on federal property was cleared in late February under federal and state evacuation orders, allowing the Army Corps to finish a clean-up job that saw the removal of 21.48 million pounds of garbage from the floodplain.
Energy Transfer Partners has since announced that the $3.8 billion project has been completed, with plans to place the pipeline running from North Dakota to Illinois into service by May 14.
The state approved emergency funding last year for out-of-state law enforcement to help the Morton County Sheriff’s Department as its badly outnumbered deputies struggled to prevent protesters from taking over highways and bridges.
The sheriff’s department sought help from the North Dakota National Guard and out-of-state law enforcement. Starting Aug. 10, officers made 761 arrests, only 6.7 percent of which involved North Dakota residents, the rest coming from 47 other states and four countries.
Protesters accused law enforcement of engaging in police brutality by deploying tear gas, beanbag rounds, rubber bullets and water hoses against activists, while activists set fires and threw rocks, feces, frozen water bottles and Molotov cocktails at police.
The Dakota Access protest has since inspired similar protest camps in at least a half-dozen states as activists attempt to block other pipeline projects.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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