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Company building Dakota Access pipeline plans to resume work immediately

Police vehicles idle on the outskirts of the opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota on Feb. 8, 2017. 

REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

CANNON BALL, N.D. -- With the green light from the federal government, the company building the Dakota Access oil pipeline said Wednesday it plans to resume work immediately to finish the long-stalled project. Opponents of the $3.8 billion project meanwhile protested around the country in an action some dubbed their “last stand.” 

The Army on Wednesday granted the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline formal permission to lay pipe under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, clearing the way for completion of the disputed $3.8 billion project. 

We plan to begin immediately,” Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for developer Energy Transfer Partners, said in an email to The Associated Press Wednesday night.

Work had been stalled for months due to opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux, but President Donald Trump last month instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to advance pipeline construction. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is concerned a pipeline leak could pollute its drinking water, and has vowed to challenge the Army’s decision in court. ETP says the pipeline is safe. 

“Now, we all need to work together to make sure the project is completed safely and with as little disruption to the community as possible. This has been a very difficult issue for everyone who lives and works in the area,” U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said in a statement announcing that the final easement had been granted.

Some members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has been at the center of the debate for nearly a year, urged “emergency actions” via social media. The Indigenous Environmental Network told people to target fuel-transportation hubs and government buildings and to expect violence and mass arrests.

The stretch under Lake Oahe is the final big chunk of work on the 1,200-mile pipeline that would carry North Dakota oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. Energy Transfer Partners had hoped to have oil flowing through the pipeline by the end of 2016, but construction has been stalled while the Army Corps of Engineers and the Dallas-based company battle in court over the crossing. 

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners on Wednesday got final permission from the Army to proceed with a crossing of the Missouri River in southern North Dakota.

The Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the easement was issued. The Army is involved in pipeline approval under the river because the Corps manages the Missouri River and its system of hydroelectric dams, which is owned by the federal government. 

The Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation is just downstream from the crossing, has mounted legal challenges and led protests that drew hundreds and at times thousands of people who dubbed themselves “water protectors” to an encampment near the crossing.

CBS affiliate KXMB reports that Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault is in Washington D.C. talking with his legal team to figures out the next steps.  

An assessment conducted last year determined the crossing would not have a significant impact on the environment. However, then-Assistant Army Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy on Dec. 4 declined to issue permission for the crossing, saying a broader environmental study was warranted given the Standing Rock Sioux’s opposition.

The Corps launched a study of the crossing on Jan. 18 that could have taken up to two years to complete, but President Trump signed an executive action six days later telling the Corps to quickly reconsider Darcy’s decision.

ETP has been poised to begin drilling under the lake. Workers have drilled entry and exit holes for the crossing, and oil has been put in the pipeline leading up to the lake in anticipation of finishing the project. CEO Kelcy Warren has said the company should be able to finish the project in about three months once it has the go-ahead.

On Wednesday, police or pipeline security continued to monitor a protest camp in North Dakota from nearby hills, as they have done for months. In the camp, few people were outdoors, where the wind chill sank to minus 20 degrees. The tribe itself has told camp occupants to leave, though there has been no effort to remove them.

On Wednesday morning, there were few people walking around the protest camp on account of the very cold temperatures, KXMB reports. The Army Corps has said it will evacuate the protest camp on Feb. 22 due to fears of flooding.

Mercedes Terrance, a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Tribe, expressed her views on how things have developed.

“Things have gotten more intense, and it’s getting more scary,” she said. “Like, I don’t know, none of our people have any fear, but we’re just kind of more cautious. Because, well, since he came into office, it’s kind of we don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Terrance spoke about any possible attempt by authorities to come in to the camp.

‘If they try to come in they’re going to have one hell of a struggle,” she said. “Like, there’s a lot of people here that won’t back down and, you know, won’t go home because of this, so. There are a lot of people that are really passionate about it so they’re not going to just leave because they’re like, oh we’re coming in.”

Joye Braun and Payu Harris, two pipeline opponents who have been at the camp since April, said that there’s frustration but also resolve in the wake of the Army’s decision.

“The goal is still prayerful, nonviolent direct action,” Braun said. 

A new camp is being established on private land, according to Harris.

“This is not over. We are here to stay. And there’s more of us coming,” he said.

Chase Iron Eyes, an American Indian activist who has called on people to return to the main camp rather than leave, encouraged that again in comments in a statement and on social media.

“I’ll see you on the front line,” said Iron Eyes, who is facing a felony charge for allegedly inciting a riot during protest action last week near the camp.