Army Corps of Engineers to close protest camp near Dakota Access Pipeline

The public land where hundreds of protesters have been camping out as they protest construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will be closed on December 5th. That announcement was made in a letter sent by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe on Friday. The Associated Press reports:

The letter, provided by the tribe, says: “To be clear, this means that no member of the general public, to include Dakota Access pipeline protesters, can be on these Corps lands.”

It says anyone on land north of the river after Dec. 5 will be trespassing and may be prosecuted. It also says anyone who stays on the land does so at his or her own risk.

The letter, from Army Corps of Engineers Col. John Henderson, says the closure is necessary to protect the general public from violent confrontations between protesters and authorities and to protect demonstrators from illness, injury or death during North Dakota’s harsh winter months. It also says that the area does not have necessary first responder services or facilities to protect people during the winter.

North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp (a Democrat) issued a statement supporting the move by the Corps of Engineers and criticizing the Obama administration (and repeatedly misspelling the word ‘protesters’):

“The decision by the Army Corps is a needed step to support the safety of residents, workers, protestors, and law enforcement,” said Heitkamp. “Safety must remain the top priority for everyone, and to help make that possible, it’s critical protestors peacefully and lawfully move off of the Corps land north of the Cannonball River and to the identified federal and tribal lands. There has been an escalation of violence among some of the protestors that puts their lives, as well as the lives of law enforcement, residents, and land owners in jeopardy. We will continue to work together in a bipartisan way to make sure the Corps’ decision is adhered to and that all North Dakotans are protected. That also means the Administration must make a decision on the easement under Lake Oahe – just as I pressed the White House for again during a conversation last week. For too long, we have waited in limbo as the decision is put off. This issue needs to be put to rest once and for all for the sake of the safety of our communities.”

Most of the clashes that have taken place between protesters and police are on public roads and private land owned by the development company building the pipeline. Protesters did try to set up a camp on that private land but were cleared out by police after the company complained they were trespassing. However the main protest camp is on public land and, until now, the federal government seemed content to allow the protesters to remain there and engage in occasional skirmishes with police.

Last month there was one report that the Justice Department had quietly asked the feds not to get involved in this situation. That meant the protesters could gather themselves for a showdown with police whenever they were ready and then retreat to the camp on public lands where local police could not force them out. It seems the vandalism, Molotov cocktails and even one case of attempted murder of a police officer has finally gotten the feds attention. The protest camp needs to be shut down.

But updates by the Associated Press suggest the protesters will not be leaving quietly:

Isaac Weston is a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe from South Dakota. He was one of several people who spoke at a news conference Saturday in response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to close land where hundreds have been camping for months.

Weston says indigenous people are the wardens of the land and the government can’t remove them. He says they have a right to be there, and they are protecting the land and water.

This is a replay of the Occupy camps which were also shut down as winter approached. Time to shut it down before more police officers and protesters get hurt.

Update: Headline edited for accurate nomenclature.