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Dalrymple: Mob rule, intimidation overshadow tribe's concerns in DAPL protest

Former North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple. File photo.

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been marred by a steady stream of misinformation and rumor. As governor of North Dakota, I feel it’s important to share facts regarding the route, permitting and our North Dakota law enforcement’s exemplary management of protesters.

Many around the world have used limited information shared through traditional and social media to form opinions about the pipeline and North Dakota as a whole. Much of this information is neither accurate nor fair.

North Dakota’s connection to the pipeline began in 2014 when Energy Transfer Partners officially filed an application for corridor compatibility and a route permit through our Public Service Commission. It is the job of our three-person elected commission to handle all such matters according to state law. A 13-month review process included public-input meetings held across the state. As a result of these meetings, the route was modified 140 times to ensure environmental safety, including a shift to follow an existing gas pipeline corridor so an entirely new pathway didn’t have to be created. The final route was legally approved and permitted by the state of North Dakota. The location for the crossing of the Missouri River was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And the easement was forwarded to the assistant secretary for signature.

There are some essential facts in this unfolding situation.

  • First and foremost, not one person from the tribe attended any of the meetings and hearings publicly noticed by state regulators over the course of two years.
  • Second, the pipeline’s permitted route never crosses tribal land. Those opponents who cite the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie to dispute who owns the lands conveniently ignore the later treaty of 1868.
  • Finally, with respect to the pipeline’s proximity to the Standing Rock Reservation’s water supply, its existing intake already was scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2016 and replaced by an intake in South Dakota, some 70 miles away.

All of these facts were validated by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., who ruled against a request for an injunction.

While the right to disagree with projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline absolutely exists, and those who disagree are welcome to exercise their right to free speech to declare that, it never should be acceptable to ignore straightforward facts and trample on a legal process that was followed carefully. It is unacceptable that the facts of the permitting process not only were omitted in much of the discussion among those who disagreed with the pipeline but were twisted in order to paint the state of North Dakota and federal government as reckless and racist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet, when news spread that the pipeline project was legally moving forward, various environmental groups began contacting Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II to express their desire to come to Cannonball, N.D., to begin a stop-the-pipeline movement. Apparently the chairman saw no reason to discourage their plans.

This movement to protest the pipeline eventually grew into a collection of more than 5,000 people illegally camping on federal land. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to allow this unpermitted presence, a decision it later would regret.

From there, what began as a peaceful protest turned into an almost-daily harassment of pipeline workers and area residents. Roads were blocked; land leased by private individuals for ranching was trespassed on; property was damaged, including several head of cattle and horses slaughtered in the field; and privately owned construction equipment was vandalized. These acts were lawless and anything but peaceful.

In response, law enforcement became involved in a four-month-long ordeal trying to keep state and county highways open and to protect private property. They were not always successful. To date, more than 500 arrests have been made, most of them for trespassing on private property and unauthorized public spaces. But some arrests were also for violent, threatening and destructive behavior.

Who were these people who came from all over the country to Cannonball? Hundreds of them were peaceful protesters, drawn to the general cause of environmental protection by a flood of social media calls for “help.” But many were actually professional agitators recruited by large environmental activist organizations to intimidate people to drop their support for the project. This subgroup hurled rocks and debris at law enforcement and harassed their families. What started out as a tribe’s objections to a pipeline siting grew into something far different.

This particular pipe is state-of-the-art when it comes to safety. It will be buried 92 feet below the bottom of the Missouri River. It will be double the strength of the pipe buried on land. And it will have sophisticated flow-monitoring devices on both sides of the river with automatic shut-off valves.

To date, the 1,172-mile pipeline is virtually complete from North Dakota to Illinois — with the exception of this river crossing. When complete, the pipeline will deliver one-half of the petroleum production from the Bakken region to markets throughout the U.S. And it will be much, much safer from an environmental standpoint than the alternative modes of truck or rail transportation. Again, the pipeline does not cross reservation land.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Dec. 5 that, despite its own conclusions that this route achieves the least environmental impact, it will further delay the process by requiring additional study. This truly tramples on a legal and orderly process in favor of intimidation and mob rule. If we allow these tactics to succeed, we will only encourage those who have chosen illegal means over the rule of law to achieve their goals.

What ultimately has happened is that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s voice now largely has become overshadowed. Environmental activist organizations, which never before showed much interest in North Dakota, used a massive social-media machine to drive misinformation about the pipeline and protests and to accuse law enforcement and the National Guard of criminal mistreatment of protesters. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Now that winter, including several feet of snow and subfreezing temperatures, has settled into our state, law enforcement and several neighboring communities have gone above and beyond to help rescue and shelter people who came unprepared. Public schools have been opened as shelters, and law enforcement repeatedly has given warnings to safely leave camp ahead of major storms.

We are proud of the restraint and the professionalism of our law enforcement officers. Attacks on their conduct have been totally inaccurate, and I hope time will help reveal the facts surrounding this ongoing situation and that reason will prevail.

Jack Dalrymple was governor of North Dakota until last week when this commentary was distributed by his office.

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