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'Unlawful' protest over oil pipeline is dangerous, Lt. Gov. Wrigley says

Drew Wrigley/FNS file photo.

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley repeatedly called the protest over an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation "unlawful" Tuesday and called on tribal leaders to pull people out of what he described as an increasingly dangerous situation.

Wrigley, a former U.S. Attorney for North Dakota who was in Grand Forks for an unmanned aerial systems conference, provided an update on the state's response to the protest Tuesday morning. His visit comes as the population of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest campsite swelled to between 2,000 and 4,000 people, depending on various estimates taken Monday.

"I do think it's very clear that (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman) Dave Archambault II is not in control of the entire unlawful protest, but we know that he can have influence with some segment of that unlawful protest," Wrigley said. "I believe it would benefit all sides if all the tribal leadership of the tribes involved ... would recognize there's still opportunity to extract people from an unlawful protest and to do it in a peaceful, law-abiding way."

In response, Archambault invited Wrigley to the campsite. He said people there are expressing concern about the environment, ancestral sites and their children's future.

"It's far from illegal or dangerous," Archambault said. "There is a lot of people who came to support the cause, and they're doing it in a peaceful manner with prayer."

Asked whether he would ask people to leave the campsite, Archambault said, "Will you tell somebody that they have a First Amendment right, but they cannot exercise it? How can I do that?"

The Dakota Access Pipeline would run about 1,170 miles from the Oil Patch in western North Dakota to Illinois. It would transport about 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

The protest site is southeast of Mandan in south-central North Dakota. Construction has been halted until a federal court hearing this week.

In July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approving the project, arguing the pipeline "threatens the tribe's environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious and cultural significance to the tribe." A hearing is scheduled for today in that case.

Archambault pointed out the pipeline originally was slated to run north of Bismarck, but that was changed in part because of potential threats to Bismarck's water supply. The pipeline is now supposed to cross the Missouri River a half-mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

"We have a government-to-government relationship, and in that relationship, there should be consultation," Archambault said. "Consultation never took place."

Wrigley said the protest started peacefully, but there have been two "substantiated cases" of lasers being pointed at aircraft observing the site, people on horses riding toward a line of officers, social media threats against law enforcement, and protesters walking on a highway. He said there was a case of people who were believed to be part of the protest who traveled to the home of a member of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, which Wrigley likened to performing reconnaissance.

"We're dealing with a very significant and challenging law enforcement issue," he said. "It is no longer a lawful protest, and there is no way to peacefully and lawfully participate in an unlawful protest."

Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an emergency declaration Friday in response to the protest, which made additional state resources available to "manage public safety risks" associated with the protest, a news release said.

"They do not have a permit to be on the Army Corps land, where the main encampment is and, of course, they weren't permitted to be out there on the highway right of way," Wrigley said. "We have options available to us when it comes to that right of way, especially now that the governor has put in place his emergency declaration."

Wrigley declined to specify those options.

"Our efforts are going to be focused on maintaining law and order and maintaining safety," he said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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