Gov. Jack Dalrymple sought Wednesday to clarify the mandatory evacuation order he issued earlier this week by saying he doesn’t aim to block supplies such as food and clothing from being provided to protesters camping in southern Morton County.
“There was a misunderstanding on how we are going to use this executive order. We are not going to be stopping people,” Dalrymple said. “It would be a huge mistake from a humanitarian standpoint.”
He said the intent of the order is public safety.
Dalrymple spoke to reporters at the Capitol along with Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann of the North Dakota National Guard, and North Dakota Highway Patrol Col. Michael Gerhart.
“Obviously, we could’ve done a better job,” Dohrmann said of communicating the meaning of the order.
Dalrymple said the order is similar to several others that have been issued in recent years during flooding emergencies.
“An emergency order means, quite simply, you are in a danger zone,” Dalrymple said. “The essence is to put people on notice.”
The Monday evacuation order said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land on which a large majority of the protesters are camping isn’t safe for winter dwelling. He said the corps land is in an area where the river has a history of ice jams in the winter and flooding in the spring.
On Sunday night, the first major winter storm of the season bore down on central North Dakota, carpeting part of the state with more than a foot of snow combined with blustery winds before petering out on Wednesday.
Dalrymple said winter arrived with a vengeance, and “right away I think people can see the danger.”
Monday’s order also says there’s no guarantee of emergency services there, including ambulances. He said emergency calls will still be responded to on a case-by-case basis.
Dalrymple said at no time has his administration considered forcibly removing protesters from the corps land, adding he believes it’s the responsibility of the corps to make that move.
Opponents of the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline are concerned over the plan to bore under the Missouri River less than a mile upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation boundary. The tribe's main concern is contamination of the water supply.
North Dakota construction of the 470,000 barrels per day crude pipeline is complete except for the portion under the river.
Dalrymple said the project is nearly complete in all four states, and rerouting it at this point isn’t feasible.
Demonstrations by protesters have led to more than 500 arrests and millions in law enforcement costs to respond to their actions since August.