CANNON BALL – North Dakota’s homeland security director ordered the removal of state-owned trailers and water tanks from the Dakota Access Pipeline protest campsite Monday, citing mounting reports of unlawful activity -- the latest involving lasers -- and the risk of damage.
“Based on the scenario down there, we don’t believe that equipment is secure,” Homeland Security Division Director Greg Wilz said.
As tribal members from across the nation streamed into the campsite, swelling its population to between 500 to 4,000 people depending on estimates, the loss of their main drinking water supply came as a blow and sent local officials scrambling to find an alternative water source.
“I feel like I just got shot down,” said Johnelle Leingang, executive secretary to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II and the tribe’s emergency response coordinator. “It’s very hurtful.”
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A black heavy-duty pickup backed up to the water tanks and pulled them away just before noon as the beating sun drove temperatures into the 80s.
Two air-conditioned trailers and a command center vehicle – delivered with the water tanks a week ago by the North Dakota Department of Health at the tribe’s request – also were hauled away from the campsite, which overlooks the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers just south of where the oil pipeline would cross the Missouri.
“People are getting overheated now already,” Leingang said shortly before 4 p.m., as the temperature hovered around 90.
Governor seeks fed help
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who issued an emergency declaration Friday to make additional state resources available to manage public safety risks associated with the protest, called Monday for federal officials to help manage the situation.
In an interview with conservative talk show host Scott Hennen, Dalrymple noted the campsite sits on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose approval of the pipeline’s river crossings led to the tribe filing a federal lawsuit to stop it. A judge will consider the tribe’s request for a temporary injunction during a hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said the governor spoke Monday morning with Jo-Ellen Darcy, who supervises the corps as the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, discussing the fact the campsite is on corps land and that protesters don’t have a permit.
While Zent said the governor requested no specific action by the corps, Dalrymple told Hennen, “I think they have to step up and take some responsibility, as well.”
Corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson said the agency is just monitoring the situation and has no action planned.
“At this point, there is not a permit, but it is my understanding they are requesting a permit,” which will undergo a review for issues such as environmental impact, health and safety, she said.
The corps may ticket unauthorized campers but has no authority to remove them, leaving that to law enforcement, Williamson said.
“We want to make sure that things are handled peaceably,” she said.
With work temporarily halted on the pipeline, only a handful of protesters stood along Highway 1806 by the construction site Monday morning, with the rest down at the campsite.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Office estimated 2,000 to 2,500 protesters, while one campsite leader, Phyllis Young, pegged the gathering at closer to 4,000.
Standing Rock spokesman Steven Sitting Bear said it had grown to 2,500 to 3,000, with many coming and going as they worked around their work and school schedules.
“I’ve been getting notifications from tribes all over the country that have caravans in route, so it’s continuing to grow,” he said.
Law enforcement on site estimated between 500 and 800 protesters were present Monday morning.
Laser incidents investigated
Authorities had arrested 29 protesters – including the tribal chairman – in the last two weeks for alleged disorderly conduct or trespassing, but things were comparatively quiet over the weekend and no additional arrests were reported as of mid-afternoon Monday, officials said.
However, authorities announced they are investigating two incidents of laser strikes aimed at aircraft being used to observe the protest site.
A pilot reported a laser beam hitting him in the eye around 5:15 a.m. last Wednesday, causing him to be blinded temporarily, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
A second incident occurred about 12:45 a.m. Sunday. In that case, the pilot said he was able to look away in time to avoid the laser, authorities said.
Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a federal violation. Reports have been forwarded to the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Some at the protest complained last week that aircraft were being used to disrupt cell phone communications.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said the planes are being used for public safety observation and not being used to disrupt any services.
A traffic control point remained in place on State Highway 1806 south of Mandan.
Zent said the governor has no plans to mobilize the North Dakota National Guard.
“He’d like to keep this in the law enforcement arena,” he said.
Dalrymple said that while the majority of protesters were peaceful, there’s an element of “outside agitators” responsible for vandalism, trespassing on private property and blocking the highway – “hundreds of criminal acts.”
Threats also have been made against law enforcement on social media, Kirchmeier noted.
Leingang dismissed claims of unlawful activity at the campsite as rumor and said “nothing bad is happening here.”
Still, protesters acknowledged the camp has split into two factions.
“You have the pacifists and then you have the people who feel something should be done, and they’re camped across the river from each other,” said Jesse Stevens, 32, a member of Wisconsin’s Menominee and Oneida tribes.
Stevens and two other men from Keshena, Wis., left Friday evening and arrived Sunday night, delayed by a broken water pump on his GMC Jimmy. While they set up camp on the “peaceful” side, Stevens said he felt like he should be across the river.
“My point in coming out here was some kind of action, regardless of whether it’s life-threatening or not,” he said. “This is our land, our people.”
Dionne Addison, 40, a Northern Arapaho Tribe member who caravanned with family from Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, said she was a little concerned about her children’s safety at the campsite. But she added, “I believe there’s strength in prayer,” and said it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Our water is sacred,” she said. “I want to make a difference, and I want them to know they can make a difference, too.”
Forum News Service reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this story.