LinkTiger [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

September 18, 2019; Star Tribune

North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers continue to fight about who is responsible for paying the costs of policing the protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline in 2016 and 2017.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it isn’t them, since it has “limited authority to enforce its rules and regulations” on the land under its management.

“The federal government acquired the Corps-managed land…without accepting any special criminal jurisdiction over this property,” states the agency in its response to a claim filed by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. “Thus, North Dakota has the authority and responsibility to enforce criminal law on the Corps-managed lands.”

Stenehjem calls that position “preposterous” and alleges that the Corps “allowed and sometimes encouraged” protesters to illegally camp without a federal permit. Indeed, the corps has admitted to using discretion, calling the federal government’s relationship with the Indian tribes “tragic” and saying its own enforcement decisions were taken in the “context of this complex and contentious history.”

Even President Donald Trump. who has pushed to expand the pipeline project, doesn’t want to pay for the costs of the policing of protests, last year denying the state’s disaster declaration to cover the state’s costs. Still, some money has been recovered, with $10 million coming from the Justice Department and $15 from the pipeline developer.

Maybe North Dakota will think twice next time it goes to deploy on such a deeply unpopular project.—Ruth McCambridge