New camps are being established for demonstrators as the main camp is set for closure.
A showdown at Standing Rock is brewing as the Dakota Access Pipeline speeds to completion.
New encampments are being set up by opponents to the more than 1,100-mile-long oil pipeline, even as contractors work steadily at drilling passage for the pipeline under a reservoir on the Missouri River.
Work could be completed in about a month, and oil could be flowing within two months, according to pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, of Dallas, Texas.
Meanwhile, the governor of North Dakota, Doug Burgum, has issued an emergency evacuation order requiring everyone to be out of the main Oceti Sakowin protest camp no later than 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
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Yet even as the Oceti Sakowin camp is set to close, veterans are arriving and building structures at new camps on private land, and opponents of the pipeline are returning for a last stand at Standing Rock.
“We have many members of our tribe that want to stay, and I think it is important that we maintain a presence there,” said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux nation. To that end, the Cheyenne River tribe leased land south of the Cannonball River on private land not far from the drill pad site.
“I am not putting out a call, but I will say this: The American government has failed us, but I strongly believe the American people have not. It is going to get real dangerous and violent in my opinion, though, on the 23rd, and I think people, if they come, need to know what is in store.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and manages the land, on Thursday declared it would enforce the order with citations imposing fines of up to $5,000 and six months in jail.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department would have to provide any law enforcement response to forcibly remove anyone remaining.
The reason for the order, the governor and corps officials declared, is expected flooding of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers in the location of the camp, which is in a flood plain. The corps is also requiring campers to leave two other camps on its land, one called Rosebud, and corps-owned portions of land at the Sacred Stone Camp.
The corps has no authority over privately owned portions of that camp, where the opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline first took root last April, with a prayer camp.
Tribal members and their allies have been working for weeks to clean up the camps before water comes. But those efforts are insufficient to return the land to a pre-protest condition before high water is expected, said Capt. Ryan Hignight, spokesman for the corps’ Omaha district.
The melt of heavy snowpack and ice jams raise the risk of flooding, including flash flooding of camps adjacent to the Cannonball River, a tributary of the Missouri, according to the governor’s executive order.
“We very much support their First Amendment rights,” Hignight said of the pipeline opponents in the camp, who call themselves Water Protectors. “But safety is our first priority.”
The corps is engaging contractors to help remove firewood, hay, tents, trash, propane tanks, vehicles, human waste, pallets, structures and debris from use of the land by thousands of pipeline opponents since last August.
There is a difference of opinion between tribes and their allies on strategy as the pipeline speeds to completion.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has asked demonstrators to leave the camps and stay away, turning their battle to the court. The tribe is also organizing an indigenous people’s march on Washington, D.C., on March 10.
In written remarks prepared for a House subcommittee Wednesday, a vice president for Energy Transfer Partners compared pipeline opponents to terrorists. However, in a news conference at the same time across town at the National Press Building, Frazier said, “from what I have seen, Morton County is the terrorist,” adding that he has been tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets by police while standing with demonstrators trying to stop the pipeline.
He said he fears violence when the Army Corps of Engineers moves to clear the main camp used by demonstrators next week.
A showdown is coming, said Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member and lawyer with the Lakota People’s Law Project who has been a leader of the opposition to the pipeline.
“The Army says they are going to raid, and there are 1,000 to 2,000 veterans en route to the construction site,” Iron Eyes, who was visiting Seattle, told a crowd gathered for a community meeting about Standing Rock on Monday night.
“We will find out who loves this land, and these waters, and who is willing to create the future that we need to pass on to our children,” Iron Eyes said. “We have to remember liberty flows in the streets, and liberty flows from the front lines.”
He advocated legal and political pursuits for justice in the fossil-fuel fight and battle against the pipeline. “But they don’t happen unless human beings are willing to place their bodies on the line in a peaceful and prayerful way,” Iron Eyes said. “Peace does not mean backing down.”
Even Pope Francis has gotten involved, with a statement Feb. 15 declaring indigenous peoples must give prior consent for any economic activity on their ancestral lands.
Lawyers for Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes have also filed more motions in federal court seeking an emergency stop of drilling under Lake Oahe, the reservoir on the Missouri where the pipeline crosses. The tribes want an environmental assessment of the pipeline, including alternative routes, resumed. The review ordered by the Obama administration in December was reversed by President Trump within days of taking office.
Energy Transfer Partners has stated the pipeline will be safe, and is a cheaper and safer way to transport oil than either truck or rail.
That suit is due to be heard in federal court on Monday.