Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and North Dakota law enforcement, both in a show of good faith, started cleaning up camps and clearing out barriers Monday.
"Cleanup is underway," said Joe Britt, head of construction for the Oceti Sakowin camp. "It's the busiest camp has ever been. ... People are out there really working."
Britt said about 200 people were there Monday cleaning up trash. At the same time, online videos showed law enforcement officers beginning to dismantle the barricade they erected in October on the Backwater Bridge.
Britt said four front-end loaders, dump trucks and a half-dozen Bobcats were put to work. Snow was moved into horseshoe-shaped piles surrounding large rollout Dumpsters to block any trash from blowing away in the wind.
Britt said he and his team are also sorting items, including sleeping bags and winter clothing, so they can be donated to those in need in Bismarck and on other Native American reservations. Food scraps will be moved to nearby farms to finish composting, he said.
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“It is paramount for public safety, and to prevent an environmental disaster, that the camps be cleared prior to a potential spring flood,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement issued Monday. “Once the floodwaters recede, the land will need to be cleaned and eventually restored to pre-protest conditions.”
The cleanup comes after months of protests against the 1,172-mile crude oil pipeline over fears that a leak where it crosses the Missouri River would contaminate the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation's water supply. A few hundred remaining protesters have agreed to clean up and leave the Oceti Sakowin camp, situated within a floodplain on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, for safety reasons before potential spring floods come.
“We’re not trying to forcefully remove anybody,” said Hans Youngbird Bradley, brownfields coordinator for the tribe's environmental protection agency. “We’re just there to clean up the abandoned camps.”
A Corps of Engineers representative indicated the agency is prepared to hire contractors to complete the cleanup after the camps are vacated.
Protest organizers have called for acts of civil disobedience nationwide as a new way to express opposition to the pipeline project.
Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or firstname.lastname@example.org