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Tribune editorial: Settlement on DAPL policing costs needed
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Tribune editorial: Settlement on DAPL policing costs needed

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The state and federal government should reach a settlement over the costs from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The prolonged dispute, scheduled to go to trial on May 1, 2023, doesn’t benefit anyone.

Negotiations are scheduled Thursday between the state, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Justice Department at the federal courthouse in Bismarck. U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal will preside over the talks.

At issue is the money spent by the state during the protests in 2016 and 2017 that drew thousands to North Dakota. Hundreds were arrested during the sometimes violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement.

The state argues it is owed $38 million for policing the protests -- an effort that involved law enforcement from across the state and other states. Then-President Donald Trump denied a request in 2018 for a disaster declaration to cover the costs. The Justice Department did give the state a $10 million grant for policing-related bills. North Dakota also received $15 million from the pipeline developer to help with costs funded through the Bank of North Dakota.

One of the state’s key arguments centers around the Corps allowing protesters to camp on federal land without a permit. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem argues the Corps allowed and sometimes encouraged protesters to illegally camp. If protesters were evicted in the beginning, the state believes, the protests might not have grown and become unmanageable.

The Corps said it couldn’t evict protesters because of free speech rights.

The Tribune editorial board has never thought that argument was valid. The Tribune believes the Corps never realized the protests would become so massive until it was too late, and the agency didn’t want the responsibility of dealing with it.

Compromise in the dispute seems to be in order. Stenehjem told The Associated Press it would be apparent on Thursday if the federal government is serious about settling. That sounds like pre-negotiation tactics. Stenehjem noted that federal judges involved in the case have encouraged a settlement.

While the Tribune believes the Corps, therefore the federal government, bears a large share of the responsibility for the situation, it’s not entirely responsible. The state eventually created a large camp of its own with an impressive arsenal, feeding operation and sleeping areas. Some believe the state overreacted.

In fairness, the state and its law enforcement had never encountered such a situation involving massive protests. The pipeline became a rallying point for Native Americans frustrated by years of broken treaties, promises and discrimination.

While North Dakota can’t be blamed for all past misdeeds, the pipeline became symbolic of them.

North Dakota and the tribes in the state have been repairing relations over the last four years. It’s important to everyone involved in the pipeline dispute that all the issues are eventually resolved.

It’s going to take time, but an agreement between North Dakota and the federal government over costs would be a good first step.

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