Deadline nears for protesters to leave camp near Dakota pipeline

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By Terray Sylvester | CANNON BALL, N.D.

CANNON BALL, N.D. Protesters opposed to the
Dakota Access pipeline braced for a showdown with authorities as
some vowed to defy Wednesday’s deadline to abandon the camp they
have occupied for months to halt the project.

President Donald Trump has pushed for the completion of the
multibillion-dollar pipeline since he took office last month,
despite objections from Native Americans and environmental
activists who say it threatens the water resources and sacred
land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Republican Governor Doug Burgum and the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers set a deadline of Wednesday afternoon for protesters
to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on Army Corps land in
Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Freezing rain and snow fell on Wednesday morning and smoke
billowed over the camp as demonstrators burned some of the
remaining structures.

Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux member, said the
activists would all stay at the camp until the 2 p.m. CST (2000
GMT) deadline.

“Then people will make their individual decisions about what
their level of commitment is,” he said by telephone on Tuesday. “Some will get arrested.”

Protesters and law enforcement have clashed multiple times
and hundreds of people have been arrested since demonstrations
began in August.

The Standing Rock Sioux asked protesters to leave the area
in December as they challenged the pipeline plans in court, but
some 300 demonstrators have remained.

Ed Higgins, a 39-year-old military veteran from Lowell,
Massachusetts, said he has spent three months at the camp, and
that he plans on getting arrested peacefully on Wednesday.

He said he was unsure how many other fellow protesters would
be taken into custody: “We will not know until it happens.”

Law enforcement officials have urged people to leave the
camp ahead of the deadline, saying they could be at risk from
spring floods, as well as to remove anything that could be
damaged during cleanup efforts.

Law enforcement officials have agreed to a request by camp
leaders that only Native American cleanup crews be used. One
activist, HolyElk Lafferty, said she had asked that
government-contracted crews not begin their work until after the
camp is cleared.

“It would raise the alarm and panic and not promote a
peaceful process today,” Lafferty said. “I want people to be
safe on both sides.”

State officials have set up a travel assistance center to provide departing protesters with food, water and health
check-ups, as well as a voucher for one night’s accommodation at
a Bismarck hotel and a bus ticket home.

“We’re making sure that we’re taking care of people that may
not have means,” said a spokesman for the state highway patrol,
Lieutenant Tom Iverson.

Trump, a Republican, signed an executive order clearing the
way for the $3.8 billion pipeline to proceed.

A judge denied a request earlier this month by two tribes
seeking to halt construction. The tribes are seeking an
injunction to order the Army Corps to withdraw the easement.

The pipeline will be complete and ready for oil between
March 6 and April 1, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

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