Pipeline Will Proceed Despite Tribal Protests

9/9/2016 5:11:00 PM, Britain Eakin
     WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge blocked the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request to halt work on the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline Friday afternoon.
     The North Dakota tribe asked the court to stop construction of the pipeline in more than 200 water crossings along its route, arguing that it would damage generations-old sites of cultural importance to Native Americans and cause environmental harm.
     U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg disagreed with the tribe's assessment.
     "The threat that new injury will compound old necessarily compels great caution and respect from this Court in considering the Tribe's plea for intervention," he wrote in his 58-page ruling. "Although the potential injury may be significant, the Tribe must show that it is probable to occur in the absence of the preliminary injunction it now seeks."
     "After a careful review of the current record, the Court cannot conclude that the Tribe has met it," the ruling states.
     The ruling came one day after the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota filed a similar lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the D.C. District Court.
     The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claims the Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly consult with it before it handed out more than 200 permits for Dakota Access to build its pipeline over U.S. water crossings, in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.
     But Boasberg's ruling says the Army Corps of Engineers made "dozens of attempts" to consult with the tribe about potentially affected cultural sites beginning in the fall of 2014, but the tribe did not actively engage until this January.
     One meeting resulted in the Corps moving the pipeline alignment to avoid tribal burial sites, the ruling states.
     "Using past cultural surveys, the company devised DAPL's [Dakota Access Pipeline's] route to account for and avoid sites that had already been identified as potentially eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places," the ruling states.
     The company also conducted surveys of its own, in conjunction with State Historic Preservation Officers.
     "Where this surveying revealed previously unidentified historic or cultural resources that might be affected, the company mostly chose to reroute. In North Dakota, for example, the cultural surveys found 149 potentially eligible sites, 91 of which had stone features [archeological evidence of past Native American habitation]. The pipeline workspace and route was modified to avoid all 91 of these stone features and all but 9 of the other potentially eligible sites. By the time the company finally settled on a construction path, then, the pipeline route had been modified 140 times in North Dakota alone to avoid potential cultural resources," Boasberg wrote.
     Work on the nearly 1,200 mile-long oil pipeline, which crosses four states and runs within half a mile of the tribe's reservation in North and South Dakota, has drawn thousands of protestors to the small town of Cannonball in south-central North Dakota. Although the protest has been mostly peaceful, violence briefly erupted last Saturday when protesters confronted private security guards after the tribe had filed documents in the current proceeding claiming they had uncovered sites of cultural significance along the pipeline's route.
     Four security guards and two guard dogs were injured after the dogs allegedly bit protesters and the officers deployed pepper spray against about 30 people.
     The scuffle was contained when law enforcement arrived on the scene.
     The pipeline will transport about half a million barrels of crude oil daily from oil fields in North Dakota to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, crossing South Dakota and Iowa on the way.
     The U.S. Department of Justice acted swiftly in response to Friday's ruling, asking Dakota Access to temporarily pause construction within 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahe, a water reservoir of particular concern, until additional reviews of the site are conducted.
     The Justice Department has invited tribes to formal consultations to discuss how the federal government can better incorporate tribal input on infrastructure projects to protect lands. It also seeks to address whether new legislation is required.
     "This case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects," the Justice Department said in a press release.
     Within hours of the ruling's release, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed notice that it would appeal the decision. Attachment