Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said Thursday he’s asking state authorities to remove a barricade on Highway 1806 and declared reports of weapons at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest are not valid.
"I don’t believe this is necessary, and I am asking them if they will remove this barrier,” Archambault said in a brief conference call open to media.
As popular recreation sites south of the barrier point were closed, Archambault said he went back to the protesters to re-emphasize the peaceful, non-violent atmosphere he wants on the scene and reiterated that no weapons, alcohol or drugs are allowed.
Archambault said protesters have not had any illegal items or activities as alleged by Morton County Sheriff's Office reports.
"When there is this much media and interest, this slight statement causes rumors to spread," said Archambault, of the reports of weapons.
Highway 1806 was blocked off Tuesday south of Mandan just past the Veterans Cemetery because of unlawful activity at the week-old protest, according to Kirchmeier, who said his officers have been threatened and he has received reports of pipe bombs, assaults on private security hired by Dakota Access, fireworks and vandalism.
The control point is about 25 miles north of where hundreds of protesters are staged along the highway closest to the pipeline construction route. Archambault said that’s an unnecessary inconvenience to tribal members, residents who live in the area and people who want to use the several public recreation sites located between Mandan and the reservation.
“No one is in any danger. This (protest activity) is no different than a construction project where traffic is slowed. Not once has property or life been in danger on Highway 1806,” Archambault said.
From the traffic control site, travelers are directed to take Morton County Road 138A, which is a link to Highway 6 further west. That highway has a paved link through Solen back over to Highway 1806 to reach Prairie Knights Casino or other destinations on the reservation.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple provided a statement later Thursday morning regarding the road closure.
“Following reports of heavy pedestrian traffic and numerous vehicles parked along Highway 1806, we restricted travel 6 miles south of Mandan to local traffic and emergency response vehicles only. Alternate routes are available for through traffic. Additionally, we established a traffic control point at the intersection of Highway 6 and Morton County Road 138A to provide information regarding protest activities along the highway," he said.
“While we are concerned about some cases of unlawful activity, we are pleased that no one has been injured and it is our top priority to keep it that way,” Dalrymple said.
Recreation sites managed by the Morton County Parks Department south of the barrier point are closed for the duration, said parks director Tim Nilsen. Nilsen said he was not part of the decision, but he supports the command decision to close Graner Park, the Little Heart boat ramp, Schmidt Bottoms rifle range and the Fort Rice Recreation area and boat ramp.
He said the lost camping fee revenue will affect the county park budget and nearly $3,000 in fees were collected at Graner Park last weekend.
“I’d like to see the issue resolved today, but I know that’s not possible. The longer it goes on, the more it hurts us,” he said.
Morton County Emergency Manager Tom Doering said the detour off Highway 1806 is so far north because county 138A is the shortest cut over to Highway 6.
The tribes want an injunction imposed while the courts decide if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should conduct a full environmental impact statement, including consultation with the tribe, rather than a less rigorous environmental assessment on the easements it issued a few weeks ago allowing the pipeline to bore the 500,000-barrel pipeline under the Missouri River near the reservation’s drinking water intake.
In a statement made during the press call, Archambault said the tribe is taking legal steps to curtail pipeline construction until its grievances are resolved in court and supports the rights of tribal members and others to engage in peaceful, non-violent opposition.
“We gather near the Cannonball River in prayer … these demonstrations are grounded in the shared belief that we must protect current and future generations that rely on our rivers and aquifer to live,” he said.