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N.D. approves additional $4M for protest costs

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Emergency Commission voted unanimously Tuesday, Nov. 1, to borrow an additional $4 million from the Bank of North Dakota to cover costs related to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he hopes it'll be enough to last until December.

The money approved Tuesday comes on top of $6 million in borrowing authority approved last month, nearly all of which has been spent, as authorized by Dalrymple's emergency declaration Aug. 19.

Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, said the state has incurred $8 million in obligations so far related to the protests, most of it in personnel costs, including paying for officers providing assistance from other states.

The state will seek to recover costs from "every entity that we can think of," Dalrymple said.

The pipeline company, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the federal government, which has allowed protesters to camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land in southern Morton County since August and is withholding the easement required for the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, are "all good possibilities for significant reimbursement of costs," he said.

The state Legislature will have to approve a deficiency appropriation next year to pay back the state-owned bank. House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who sits on the six-member Emergency Commission chaired by the governor, said "this is really irritating."

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am at the lack of support from the Obama administration on an issue that is clearly a federal issue," Carlson said. "We're going to be in a tight budget situation. Even with that, I'll keep approving money for the safety of all those people living down there, but this is 110 percent wrong that we have to do this."

Legislative action also will be needed to reimburse Morton County, which has spent at least $3 million on overtime and other protest-related expenses, officials said.

Carlson urged the governor to "keep just pounding" on the Obama administration to provide money and law enforcement "to solve this issue." Dalrymple said he has asked the state's congressional delegation to come up with funding, and the Obama administration is aware of the state's position.

Dohrmann said costs are coming down as the police force that was needed to clear public right of ways and private land last Thursday, leading to 141 arrests, is being drawn down. At its peak, the force numbered about 300 law enforcement officers and 100 Guardsmen, he said. A total of 411 protest-related arrests have been made since Aug. 10.

"We are starting to bring things down. Of course, everything depends on what the protesters do," he said.

Dalrymple said the pipeline work "may be finished as early as this weekend," which will leave the lake crossing easement as the project's final hurdle for Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

"So that hopefully could help sort of wind down the heavy expense period," he said.

Corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson said via email Tuesday there's still no word on when the easement will be issued, noting congressional notification needs to happen first but has not occurred. U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer has said he doesn't expect a decision until after the Nov. 8 election.

Dohrmann wouldn't disclose whether a law enforcement presence will remain in the area once the pipeline is in the ground, saying, "It depends on what the threat is."

Dalrymple said he thinks the Corps is considering asking the main Oceti Sakowin camp to gradually move onto the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Williamson said the only thing she knew about relocation was that the tribe has set aside land for those who wish to remain for the winter.

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, commended law enforcement for their professionalism.

"They have shown respect, self-control and patience and put, I think, themselves in danger," he said.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., released a statement supporting the Emergency Commission's action Tuesday.

"The well-being and property of ranchers, farmers and everyone else living in the region should not be threatened by protesters who are willing to commit violence to achieve their ends," Hoeven said. "In the meantime, we will continue working to secure reimbursement for the state's expenses from the federal government and call on the Corps and the Obama administration to approve the easement and resolve the issue."

The commission's other members are Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, and Secretary of State Al Jaeger.

Fire intentionally set

A grass fire that torched the hillsides Sunday across from the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance camp was intentionally set, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier confirmed Tuesday.

Kirchmeier said the fire reported early Sunday is still under investigation, but authorities believe it was intentionally set because individuals were seen leaving the area of the fire.

He estimated the fire damaged 400 acres.

No information was available from the state fire marshal.

People at the main Oceti Sakowin camp said the grass fire started around 1:30 a.m. Sunday on a hill across Highway 1806 from the camp entrance. The fire spread to the northwest, away from the camp that is just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

North Dakota National Guard helicopters with 600-gallon water water buckets scooped water from Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, and dumped on the fire for more than an hour until about 10 a.m. Sunday.

The Mandan Rural Fire Department was dispatched to the area but couldn't reach the fire because of the terrain, Morton County spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said.

Camp security volunteers sent people with blankets to put out the fire.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.

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