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Corps: More discussion needed before agency will approve Dakota Access easement

WASHINGTON — More discussion is needed with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, the agency announced Monday, Nov. 14, in a temporary win for protesters of the four-state pipeline.

The Army Corps invited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to engage in discussions regarding conditions that could be placed on an easement that would reduce the risk of a spill, increase detection and response to a possible spill and enhance the protection of Lake Oahe and the tribe's water supplies.

"The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation's dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property," the agency said in a news release.

While discussions are ongoing, construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe can't occur because the agency has not made a final decision on the easement, the Army Corps said.

"The Army will work with the Tribe on a timeline that allows for robust discussion and analysis to be completed expeditiously," the news release said.

In a letter to Standing Rock and Dakota Access officials, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, said the agency plans to provide a "framing paper" to facilitate a discussion regarding the pipeline easement.

The Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior announced on Sept. 9 the Army Corps would determine whether it needed to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Dakota Access crossing at Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River.

Opponents have been actively protesting the pipeline north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation since mid-August. About 500 protesters converged on the state Capitol in Bismarck Monday, prompting the building to be restricted to employees only. Later Monday, protesters blocked traffic in front of the William Guy Federal Building in downtown Bismarck.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement late Monday that while the announcement was not 100 percent what the tribe had hoped for, it demonstrated that President Obama is listening. Tribal leaders had been pushing for the easement to be denied or for a full environmental impact statement and tribal consultation.

"We are encouraged and know that the peaceful prayer and demonstration at Standing Rock have powerfully brought to light the unjust narrative suffered by tribal nations and Native Americans across the country," Archambault said.

The chairman thanked people who have shown their support for Standing Rock.

"The harmful and dehumanizing tactics by the state of North Dakota and corporate bullies did not go unnoticed because of you," Archambault said. "Not all of our prayers were answered, but this time, they were heard."

Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Last week, the company said pipeline construction is complete in North Dakota except for the crossing beneath the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement Monday the delay "will only prolong the disruption in the region caused by protests and make life difficult for everyone who lives and works in the area."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she has repeatedly asked the Obama administration for a timeline, a transparent process and a final decision one way or the other.

"The administration has failed yet again to even provide that decision," Heitkamp said in a statement.

Hoeven and Heitkamp also renewed their call Monday for more federal resources to assist law enforcement.

Craig Stevens, spokesman for the MAIN Coalition, a labor group, called the Corps' announcement "yet another attempt at death by delay" and said the Obama administration "has chosen to further fan the flames of protest by more inaction." He noted the pipeline doesn't cross the Standing Rock reservation, is co-located with an existing natural gas pipeline and has received all the requisite state and federal approvals except for the easement.

"With President-Elect Trump set to take office in 67 days, we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline," he said.

Michael Brune, executive director for the Sierra Club, said in a statement the environmental group was encouraged by the announcement.

"We are encouraged by the Obama administration's decision to withhold granting the final easement approving the Dakota Access pipeline, but the fact remains, there is no safe route for any pipeline—especially when crossing a body of water," Brune said.

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