In a mixed victory for both sides, a federal district court judge ruled Tuesday that Dakota Access Pipeline must temporarily stop construction in one area of its pipeline route, but can proceed in another.
Judge James Boasberg ordered no construction east of Highway 1806 just north of the reservation boundary, extending the no-construction zone 20 miles across to the east of the Missouri River-Lake Oahe.
The judge ordered construction can proceed on private land west of the highway because there is no ownership and jurisdiction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed for a restraining order 20 miles in both directions Friday after historian and former preservation officer Tim Mentz mapped what he said are dozens of irreplaceable sites in an area west of where the contested pipeline arrives at Highway 1806 north of the reservation boundary.
Sioux chairman Dave Archambault issued a short video statement on Facebook, saying the judge’s decision doesn’t solve the problem and puts his people’s sacred places at further risk.
“I’m disappointed with the decision. It does not prevent Dakota Access Pipeline from destroying sacred sites as we await a ruling on our original motion to stop construction altogether,” he said.
It is also a somehow hollow victory for the tribes, since the pipeline company suspended work on the east side of Highway 1806 on Aug. 15 because it had turned into an active protest site, attracting hundreds of Sioux members and supporters. That stoppage had been pending more court action.
Boasberg said he will decide before the end of Friday whether to issue a permanent injunction against the $3.8 billion project based on the tribe’s suit that the corps failed to follow federal law when it issued permits for the company to bore under the river.
The area mapped by Mentz was excavated by pipeline workers Saturday, the morning after the restraining motion was filed. The company said the move was planned weeks ago on its construction schedule to make up for delays and to avoid the stress of this week’s powwow.
“We absolutely did not move our construction spread to retaliate against Mentz or cause harm to any historic sites,” Dakota Access said in court documents. “It’s nearly impossible to reschedule construction Friday for the next morning.”
The excavation led to the most confrontational clash yet between pipeline security guards and several hundred pipeline protesters since the tribe’s protest started Aug. 9. Three security officers reported injuries and an unknown number of protesters were pepper-sprayed and bitten by the security team’s K-9 dogs. Another disruption Tuesday morning caused labor unions to call on Gov. Jack Dalrymple to take steps to control the situation.
Glen Johnson, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 said, the unlawful activity is threatening worker safety.
"Members report protesters breaking through security lines and making threats, having rocks thrown at them and being chased out of their equipment and off the job site. This behavior by protesters is unacceptable. Union workers are simply trying to do their jobs and do not deserve to be treated this way," Johnson said.
The letter was also signed by Laborers International Union of North America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Association.
Mentz said he counted 27 graves and cairns and some 82 stone features, some rare in the Great Plains and seldom recorded in his lifetime. One, a depiction of the Big Dipper constellation, used for attaining the highest level of leadership, also had an associated grave.
“This is one of the most significant archaeological finds in North Dakota in many years," he said.
According to Dakota Access Pipeline filings, it has to complete the project before year’s end to properly test the pipeline and meet its oil delivery obligations.
“The lead time for the Lake Oahe crossing requires months not days. The access roads, pads, approaches and the rest of the pipeline that are being constructed now must be complete before the bore begins. That is why time is of the essence,” according to company filings.
(Reach Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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