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Corps, federal agencies need to take action

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A line of protesters in motor vehicles leave the St. Anthony area along North Dakota Highway 6 on Wednesday afternoon after being dispersed by local law enforcement officers. The protesters later appeared at a construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline before again being dispersed by officers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to take responsibility for the situation near Cannon Ball. There are up to 3,000 opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline camped in the area, many staying in the area without a permit.

The corps said last month it would issue a special use permit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to use 41 acres of land south of the Cannonball River. The permit hasn’t been issued yet, but protesters have permission to be at the site. Campers to the north don’t have permission and corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson told the Forum News Service they stay there "not just at their own risk, but at the risk to the leaseholder, as well." The leaseholder, David Meyer, is required to return the land to the agency in a condition that meets its requirements.

That’s the ultimate cop-out by the corps since Meyer has no way of removing those illegally on the land. In fact, you can argue the corps has given them tacit approval to be there by not taking a firmer approach. To say Meyer is responsible for any damage is an insult to him. It looks like the corps is trying to wash its hands of the situation, but it’s not that easy. After a federal judge last month rejected the tribe’s request for an injunction of the project, the president intervened.The U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of the Army and Department of Justice issued a joint statement saying the Army wouldn’t allow construction near or under the Missouri River until further review is completed. This action added to the involvement of the corps in the dispute.

It’s been almost a month since the departments intervened and the review hasn’t been completed. There have been reports of Morton County farmers and ranchers being harassed and some say they have started carrying weapons in their vehicles. This is a powder keg atmosphere that should worry everyone. The corps can do more to defuse the situation. It can complete its review and tell Dakota Access whether it can resume work. Then it’s up to the courts to rule on a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the corps and the tribe’s appeal of the federal judge’s decision. The court rulings will no doubt take time.

Until then, ways need to be found to ease tensions in the area. The corps should complete work on the camp permit and clarify the status of the other camp. If no permit will be issued to the camp the corps must explain what penalties the campers may face. The protesters, who say they have no issues with local residents, need to do everything possible to avoid conflicts.

Law enforcement has shown restraint while working to avoid injuries and so far no one has been seriously hurt.

While the federal government decided to intervene it hasn’t provided any answers. It has stopped some work without any indication of when it can resume. It has refused to provide assistance to law enforcement, with Morton County getting help from other North Dakota departments and other states offering assistance. And the corps has tried to avoid responsibility. The state is left looking at an estimated $6 million in law enforcement costs.

It’s time for the federal government and corps to end the limbo it has placed Dakota Access, Morton County, the state and the protesters in. The courts also will have a say, but the federal government needs to act.

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