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North Dakota sues feds over pipeline protest police costs

July 18, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota sued the federal government Thursday to recover the $38 million the state spent policing protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he filed the claim in Bismarck federal court after the Army Corps of Engineers ignored an administrative claim he filed one year ago.

The agency did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment Thursday. It has 60 days to respond to the state’s 37-page lawsuit.

Thousands of opponents of the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s been moving North Dakota oil to Illinois for two years gathered in southern North Dakota in 2016 and early 2017, camping on federal land and often clashing with police, resulting in 761 arrests over six months.

Stenehjem said the Corps “allowed and sometimes encouraged” protesters to illegally camp without a federal permit. The Corps has said protesters weren’t evicted due to free speech reasons.

The Corps’ inaction required North Dakota to provide law enforcement to prevent deaths and protect property, including that of the protesters, Stenehejem said.

“When the protesters finally left, they left behind a spoiled environment and a vast quantity of dangerous waste, garbage and debris that had to be cleaned up by the state at considerable cost,” Stenehjem told reporters.

Though the pipeline has been moving oil since 2017, four Native American tribes in the Dakotas continue legal efforts to shut it down. It also has spurred individual lawsuits from protesters, including one filed Thursday in federal court by a 24-year-old Navaho tribal member in New Mexico who claims he suffered damage to his eye after being hit with a beanbag round fired by a law enforcement officer in 2017..

Marcus Mitchell’s lawsuit against the state Highway Patrol, Morton County and the city of Bismarck seeks unspecified money damages.

The pipeline construction began while Barack Obama was in the White House. President Donald Trump just days after taking office in January 2017 pushed through completion of the stalled project.

The company announced plans last month to double the pipeline’s capacity.

Trump last year denied a state-requested disaster declaration to cover the state’s costs. The Justice Department later gave the state a $10 million grant for policing-related bills. Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners gave the state $15 million to help with the costs that were funded from loans from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

Stenehjem said the $25 million the state has received to offset the costs doesn’t get the Corps off the hook for the state’s $38 million total cost.

“We think we have an excellent case based on sound law,” Stenehjem said.

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