MORTON COUNTY — After weeks of hard work by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to clean up the Oceti Sakowin protest camp, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved into the evacuated camp Friday morning, planning to spend in excess of $1 million before all is said and done.
The corps waited until the anti-Dakota Access pipeline encampment near the Standing Rock was officially cleared of people — a declaration made mid-afternoon Thursday, about 24 hours after an evacuation deadline and 46 arrests.
The corps’ contract with a Florida-based company to provide trash removal and environmental cleanup includes the main Oceti Sakowin camp on the north side of the Cannonball River and the smaller Rosebud camp on the south side. Both are on corps’-owned property.
Corps’ spokesman Ryan Hignight said the corps planned to work through the Oceti camp first, where even after three weeks of clean up by the tribe, a large amount of abandoned camp material, garbage, debris and stranded cars and motor homes had to be hauled out. The camp is in a floodplain and Hignight said the corps wants to be sure nothing contaminates nearby Lake Oahe, used for tribe drinking water and others downstream.
About 240 rollout dumpsters have been hauled out, each brimming with debris of old food stores, structures, tents, building materials and personal belongings, much of it buried under winter blizzards or simply left behind. Officials are estimating it will require another equal number of loads to get the job done.
Hignight said the corps and the tribe are doing a cultural survey to see if any special items, such as teepees, require separate handling and consultation. The contract also included a special environmental crew to deal with potential hazardous or toxic materials.
While the corps’ crews moved into the area — pleased with the hard overnight freeze that hardened the muddy grounds, one said — tribal contractors were also at work clearing the Rosebud side.
“The mud is killing us,” said Logan Thompson, owner of Prairie View equipment contractor, who brought skid steers, loaders and a crew of 10 to the job. “I’m hoping if it stays cold like this, by Monday we could be done.”
He said his crew would get some instruction from health officials on how to handle the human waste and waste compost in the camp.
The corps plans separate contracts to restore and remediate the camp area, according to Hignight, indicating that it had been a pasture area leased for livestock grazing before the camp started in August.
Once occupied by thousands of people, the camp had dwindled to several hundred in the past few weeks and nearly all of those left voluntarily prior to the deadline. Many who left the main camp moved into other camps on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Tribal officials, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, are moving to clear those camps and may get some help from the state.
Gov. Doug Burgum’s spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the office supports Standing Rock’s efforts, but there are no definite plans to deploy any state resources. He said the North Dakota Highway Patrol can assist on public roadways, while use of the National Guard requires an official request from either Sioux County or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“There are no specific plans, but he stands ready to assist, if requested," Nowatzki said.
The concrete barricades that have been used to blockade and route traffic near the Oceti Sakowin camp were also being moved Friday, but Highway 1806 remains closed north and south of the camp.
Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson said reopening the highway to through traffic is a priority, but it’s not clear when that will happen.