Pipeline Protest Policing Costs Surpass Emergency Spending

Caption: In this image provided by Morton County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement and protesters clash near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline Nov. 20 in Cannon Ball, ND. (photo provided by AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota officials may need to borrow more money to police protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline now that costs have exceeded the $10 million in emergency spending authorized by the state.

Total state law enforcement costs related to the protests that have been ongoing since August reached $10.9 million last week, according to state Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong. Morton County has spent an additional $8 million, and county officials have said they might apply for reimbursement from the state.

Fong said it’s “very likely” officials will need to go back to the state’s Emergency Commission to request more money, though she wasn’t immediately sure when that might happen or how much money would be requested.

The Emergency Commission, a panel of state officials and lawmakers headed by the governor, handles emergency funding requests when the Legislature isn’t in session. The group in September voted to borrow $6 million from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to help fund protest-related law enforcement. When that money ran out, the commission decided earlier this month to borrow an additional $4 million.

The $3.8 billion pipeline to carry oil from North Dakota to a shipping point in Illinois is largely complete outside of a stretch under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe and others have been opposing the construction for months, saying the pipeline threatens the tribe’s drinking water and also American Indian cultural sites. Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners disputes that, and has gone to federal court to try to resolve a dispute with the Army Corps of Engineers over permission to tunnel under Lake Oahe and finish the 1,200-mile pipeline.

Protests have intensified as the dispute plays out, with total arrests reaching 528 on Monday, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple has pressed the Obama administration for federal aid. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier announced Monday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be providing some Border Patrol agents to help with policing.

ETP Chief Executive Kelcy Warren told The Associated Press last Friday that he made a verbal offer to reimburse the state for policing costs during an earlier conversation with Dalrymple.

Dalrymple’s spokesman, Jeff Zent, said the governor doesn’t recall Warren making an offer and that even if one was made, it’s unclear whether the state could legally accept it.

“The bottom line is the governor has not received a formal (offer), nor are we seeking one out,” Zent said, adding that “our focus is to continue to press the Obama administration to help cover these costs.”

Warren acknowledged that he didn’t make a formal offer, saying it was “a gesture.”

“I’m formally saying, send us the bill,” he told the AP. “It may not be allowed, that they can allow us to reimburse them, but if they can and if they desire, we will.”

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