Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney, in a briefing Sunday, Dec. 4, said law enforcers will back away from a contested bridge near the camp of protesters opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Laney, who has taken a lead role in assisting Morton County, said law enforcement officers will move away from the north side of the Backwater Bridge to help de-escalate the conflict, which this weekend drew military veterans from around the country to join protesters.
Law enforcement said they would vacate the area no later than 4 p.m. Sunday if protesters stay at their camp and remain away from Backwater Bridge, unless a pre-arranged meeting with Morton County is approved.
Laney called "ludicrous" the idea that law enforcement officers would sweep in to make mass arrests of protesters for camping on Army Corps of Engineers land without a permit.
"It's not going to happen," Laney said in a video of the briefing provided by law enforcement. "There's a political agenda here that will have to work itself out."
He added: "We will back off and we will de-escalate." However, Laney warned protesters to stay away from the bridge as well as barriers and wires intended to keep people away for what he said were public safety reasons.
"We will respond appropriately, depending upon what they're doing," Laney said. "We're not for the company or for them. We're that big wall in-between to prevent a war."
The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline would carry Bakken crude from North Dakota to a hub in Illinois, 1,172 miles away. The North Dakota segment of the project is complete except for a crossing underneath Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, near the protest site.
The Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a permit to allow the pipeline to cross the river. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is against the pipeline, which would cross just north of its reservation, on the grounds that it could contaminate their water supply.