The Obama administration in September postponed final approval of an Army Corps permit required to allow tunneling beneath the lake, a move meant to give federal officials more time to consult tribal leaders.
The US Army Corps of Engineers said on Sunday that it does not intend to forcibly remove activists protesting plans to run an oil pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, following an announcement last week that it plans to close public access to the main protest site north of the Cannonball River on December 5 and a vow from organizers of the 5,000-person protest that they would not move.
The planned pipeline is a $3.7 billion project that would cross four states and potentially destroy a Native American reserve's historical artifacts, burial and prayer sites.
"We are wardens of this land".
The "emergency evacuation" order from Governor Jack Dalrymple came days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the site, set a December 5 deadline for the demonstrators to vacate their encampment, about 45 miles (72 km) south of Bismarck, the state capital. Attendees chanted, "Stop the pipeline" and "Water rights are human rights".
The Corps cited North Dakota's oncoming winter and increasingly contentious clashes between protesters and police.
The almost 1,200-mile pipeline is largely complete except for a section that would pump oil under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota. Authorities had set up a staging area about a mile away on a hill overlooking the site. The delay also led to escalating tensions over the project. Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, says that it has taken measures to prevent leaks, and that there is no archaeological significance to the area. Obama said his administration is monitoring the "challenging situation" but would "let it play out for several more weeks". The National Guard of North Dakota should be protecting the peaceful protesters rather than supporting the military actions against them. The agency says "it has no plans for forcible removal", but anyone on land north of the river after the deadline will be trespassing and may be prosecuted. The Corps has ordered the protesters to leave federal land, but the Corps says it has no plans to forcibly remove anyone. Dalrymple says requests for reimbursement from the federal government have been unsuccessful so far.
"It's useless for local and state law enforcement, and the order from the Corps is self-serving and amounts to them limiting their liability", Schulz said. There are now thousands of tribe members and supporters who are braving the winter weather in the camps, and 1,500 USA military veterans are set to arrive December 4 to stand with them in solidarity.
"This is a federal problem and needs to be dealt with by them", Kirchmeier said.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) waits to be introduced during a rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline September 13, 2016 at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC.
"The general public is hereby notified that emergency services probably will not be available under current winter conditions", Dalrymple said in his order. He also called on the Obama administration to let work on the pipeline move forward, saying, "this hard situation has gone on too long and we need to get it resolved".