Corps to accelerate cleanup at oil pipeline protest camp

Corps to accelerate cleanup at oil pipeline protest camp
This aerial photo shows the Oceti Sakowin camp, where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline on federal land, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Cannon Ball, N.D. A federal judge on Monday refused to stop construction on the last stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline, which is progressing much faster than expected. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to hire a contractor to accelerate cleanup efforts at a camp in southern North Dakota that has housed hundreds and sometimes thousands of Dakota Access pipeline opponents.

Officials fear the camp near the Cannonball River will soon flood due to warm weather and rapid snowmelt. They worry trash and debris left behind by people who have left in recent weeks might pollute the Missouri River and other nearby waterways.

"With the amount of people that have been out there and the amount of estimated waste and trash out there, there is a good chance it will end up in the river if it is not cleaned up," Corps spokesman Capt. Ryan Hignight said.

Local and federal officials estimate there's enough trash and debris in the camp to fill about 2,500 pickup trucks. Garbage ranges from trash to building debris to human waste, according to Morton County Emergency Manager Tom Doering.

The camp on federal land near the pipeline route has dwindled to a few hundred people as the battle over the $3.8 billion project to move North Dakota oil to Illinois has largely moved into the courts. The Standing Rock Sioux and others believe a pipeline leak under the Missouri River would contaminate water for millions of people. Developer Energy Transfer Partners says the pipeline is safe.

Corps to accelerate cleanup at oil pipeline protest camp
This aerial photo shows the Oceti Sakowin camp, where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline on federal land, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Cannon Ball, N.D. A federal judge on Monday refused to stop construction on the last stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline, which is progressing much faster than expected. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

The tribe has asked protesters to leave the area, and has been coordinating cleanup at the camp since late last month. Chairman Dave Archambault said at the time it was being funded from $6 million in donations the tribe received to support its pipeline fight.

Gov. Doug Burgum, State Engineer Garland Eberle and state Environmental Health Chief Dave Glatt on Tuesday issued a statement pushing for an accelerated cleanup.

"We're really fighting the clock," Doering said Wednesday. "There's more garbage down there than anybody anticipated."

Corps officials and a contractor will travel to the site later this week to assess the situation, though actual cleanup work won't happen until the area is deemed safe for workers, Hignight said. The camp area has seen frequent and sometimes violent clashes between protesters and police.

Corps to accelerate cleanup at oil pipeline protest camp
This aerial photo shows the Oceti Sakowin camp, where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline on federal land, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Cannon Ball, N.D. A federal judge on Monday refused to stop construction on the last stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline, which is progressing much faster than expected. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

The Corps said earlier this month it will close the camp Feb. 22—next Wednesday—to get people out of harm's way and safeguard the environment.

"We're still working out details," Hignight said Wednesday, adding that the contractor will "clean up the land to a pre-protest state."

The effort will be funded through the Corps budget, meaning taxpayers ultimately will foot the bill.

The county and state are looking for more contractors to further speed up the process, and some of that cost ultimately could fall on taxpayers, according to Doering. Local authorities are hoping for a presidential disaster declaration to open up the prospect of federal aid.


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