Police Ready for SWAT Situation at Pipeline Protest Camp

February 23, 2017 Updated: February 23, 2017
FONT BFONT SText size

CANNON BALL, N.D.—A SWAT vehicle is ready for use if it becomes necessary to use force to remove the remaining protesters from the now-closed Dakota Access pipeline protest camp on federal land in North Dakota, authorities said Thursday.

American Indian elders have told police there are people willing to resort to drastic measures to stay in the camp that was shut down Wednesday ahead of spring flooding, Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson said. Similar sentiments have been expressed by protesters on social media, Iverson said.

Authorities are prepared for a worst-case “SWAT scenario” should anyone who is armed barricade themselves in a structure in the camp, Iverson said. A Special Weapons and Tactics vehicle was at the scene.

“We’re doing everything we can to avoid that kind of a situation,” he said. “We don’t want it to reach a flash point, but at some point, enough is enough.”

Smoke from fires set by protesters goes up as they leave their protest camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property in southern Morton County, near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
Smoke from fires set by protesters goes up as they leave their protest camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property in southern Morton County, near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

The camp—known as Oceti Sakowin—near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation has since August been the main site for demonstrators trying to thwart construction of the final section of the $3.8 billion pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, whose reservation is downstream, say Dakota Access threatens their drinking water and cultural sites. Texas-based Pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes that.

When complete, the project will carry oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.

A fire on a building at a camp that has been home to demonstrators against the Dakota Access pipeline is seen after protesters set fire in Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Mike Mccleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
A fire on a building at a camp that has been home to demonstrators against the Dakota Access pipeline is seen after protesters set fire in Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Mike Mccleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

At its peak, the camp was home to thousands of protesters. Of the few hundred who remained Wednesday, most marched out of the area ahead of the 2 p.m. deadline imposed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Authorities arrested 10 people who defied the order in a final show of dissent.

Gov. Doug Burgum estimated Wednesday night that as many as 50 people remained in the camp. Police early Thursday said another 15 had crossed a frozen river and entered the camp on foot.

Burgum has said those remaining at the camp can still leave without facing charges. The state planned to send a bus to the site at midday to transport anyone to Bismarck, where officials were doling out basic necessities, along with hotel and bus vouchers.

Protester Ed Higgins, 39, of Lowell, Massachusetts, said by phone from the camp, that Lakota elders want to meet law enforcement to state their belief that the camp is on land that rightfully belongs to Native Americans.

“They don’t have any right to come in here,” he said of police.

A fire set by protesters burns in the background as opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline leave their main protest camp near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
A fire set by protesters burns in the background as opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline leave their main protest camp near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

Corps Col. John Henderson has said the taxpayer-funded cleanup of the site could take about a month and cost as much as $1.2 million. The Corps had warned that the protesters need to leave the site before the spring melt floods the land and spreads debris from the camp downriver.

Early Wednesday, protesters burned some wooden structures on site in what they described as a leaving ceremony. Authorities said about 20 fires were set and a 7-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were taken to hospitals to be treated for burns.

Shortly before the deadline passed, about 150 people marched out of the soggy camp, singing and playing drums as they walked down a highway, carrying an American flag hung upside-down.