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Panel votes to borrow $6M from state-owned bank to deal with pipeline protests

BISMARCK – A panel chaired by Gov. Jack Dalrymple voted Wednesday, Sept. 21, to borrow up to $6 million from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to support policing efforts related to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, but not before members blasted the federal government for not providing more support.

“I know we have to do it, but it’s not right, and the lack of federal involvement is disgusting,” House Majority Leader Al Carlson said before the six-member Emergency Commission unanimously approved the line of credit.

The line of credit will cover past and future expenses as authorized by Dalrymple’s emergency declaration Aug. 19. Lawmakers will need to make a deficiency appropriation next year from the state’s general fund to pay back the bank, Budget Director Pam Sharp said.

Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, said the state has spent nearly $1.9 million on protest-related expenses, mainly for assistance from the Guard and law enforcement agencies from across the state. Morton County, which estimated last week it had spent an additional $400,000, also may seek reimbursement.

Authorities have responded to multiple protests at pipeline construction sites and in Bismarck-Mandan since activity ramped up in mid-August, making about 70 arrests. They say a traffic checkpoint and increased patrols in Morton County are necessary for the safety of local residents, farmers and ranchers and the thousands of self-described “water protectors” camping just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation about 35 miles south of Mandan.

“We’ve got these people out there on the front lines working overtime, and we’ve got to pay them,” said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson.

The Corps granted a special use permit Friday to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to allow a lawful free-speech demonstration to continue on Corps land south of the Cannonball River. But the Corps didn’t act on the permit application for the land north of the river that supports the main camp because it’s subject to an existing grazing lease.

The Corps said the 429-acre grazing lease expires Dec. 31, 2018, and is held by David Meyer, a cattle rancher from nearby Flasher. Meyer did not return phone messages left at his listed number Tuesday and Wednesday.

Carlson, R-Fargo, said it bothers him that it’s “a federal problem that they’ve ignored” and the Legislature must cover the costs at a time of budget shortfalls. Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, agreed.

“The taxpayers shouldn’t have to be paying for this,” he said.

Dalrymple said he’s been in contact with the Corps, White House, U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Interior and the state’s congressional delegation but is still waiting to hear if they plan to help financially or with in-kind services.

“The problem that we have, of course, is that these public safety needs are imminent every day,” Dalrymple said. “We really have no choice but to protect the public with law enforcement. Recovering funds from the federal government is definitely a top priority, but it undoubtedly will take some time.”

Construction of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline is on hold within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, as the Corps and a federal appeals court review legal challenges from the tribe. The tribe claims it wasn’t properly consulted about the pipeline and that the proposed lake crossing less than a mile north of its reservation threatens its water supply and sacred sites.

The pipeline’s developer, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, said last week it’s committed to completing the crude oil pipeline, which will initially carry 450,000 barrels per day from the Bakken oilfields to a hub in Patoka, Ill., with capacity to expand to 570,000 barrels per day.

Delzer questioned whether the $6 million line of credit was too high, but Dalrymple said if the court and Corps allow work to resume, “We may be back in a period of high demand for law enforcement, so I think it’s better that we have this in place.”

The commission’s other members are Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks.

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