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Posted 11/29/16 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made the right decision in giving the protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline until Dec. 5 to close their illegal encampments and to move off of all Corps lands.
While there are those that would argue that the Corps should have made their decision much earlier, the arrival of winter’s snows and cold temperatures along with the escalating conflicts between the protestors and law enforcement no doubt played a major role in the Corps deciding to send Standing Rock Sioux tribal leader Dave Archambault a letter last week stating that all federal lands north of the Cannonball River will be closed to public access Dec. 5 for “safety concerns.”
While many of the protestors have followed pleas from the tribal elders that the protests need to be peaceful, there have been many more protestors that have decided escalating their protest activities and provoking conflicts with law enforcement agencies is the best way to garner more national attention. And that confrontational approach by protestors in which construction equipment has been destroyed, bridges damaged and private citizen’s livestock killed cannot, and should not, be tolerated.
As evidenced by the more than 525 protestors from across the country who have been arrested since August, this protest has little to do with where Dakota Access Pipeline is proposing to cross the Missouri River. While these protestors and their financial backers may claim they want to protect the waters of the Missouri River, their real intent is to stop energy development.
And that is the real tragedy in this entire protest.
Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the Dakota Access Pipeline, has followed all state and federal requirements in determining the location of the $3.8 billion pipeline project. During the permitting process comments were received by state and federal agencies, private citizens, environmental groups, as well as Native American Indian tribes.
But in the 11th hour, as construction equipment was being brought to the shores of the Missouri River, where the pipeline would be buried well under the bed of the river, the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation decided that they did not want the river crossing to occur. And the protests began.
In applauding the Corps decision to finally move the protestors out of their illegal camps, Jack Dalrymple stated, “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.”
And Dalrymple is right, while North Dakota’s state and local law enforcement agencies continue to do all they can to keep private property and public infrastructure free from unpermitted protest activities, it is time for the federal government to step up and help resolve the problem that they created by allowing protestors access to the Corps land in the first place.
And Dalrymple, as well as the state’s congressional delegation, is right in calling on the Obama administration to make a final ruling on DAPL’s easement for the river crossing.
But, the more pressing issue now is what is going to happen on Dec. 5? Will the protestors follow the Corps letter and peacefully move to a free speech zone south of the Cannonball River or to a more sustainable location for the winter? Or will the protestors continue to choose to escalate their confrontational approach?
For the safety of everyone involved, let’s hope that the protestors choose to follow the path offered by the Corps of Engineers.