By John Hageman
Duluth News Tribune
BISMARCK—North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said it’s “very likely” the state will sue the federal government to recoup cleanup costs associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp on federal land.
Stenehjem’s comments on Wednesday, Feb. 22, came hours before an evacuation order issued by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum takes effect for people occupying Army Corps of Engineers land adjacent to the Cannonball River in southern Morton County. State officials have said a cleanup is needed to prevent debris from washing into the river during spring flooding.
Stenehjem said the state’s consideration of legal action is partly based on prior experience with the state’s “constant plea” for federal law enforcement support during the months-long protests.
“The federal government is very good at making all kinds of promises they never follow through with,” he said from his office. “The state of North Dakota is not going to spend a nickel on cleaning this up.”
Stenehjem said there will likely be “environmental issues” in the months or years after the initial cleanup.
“Bringing that land back to original condition is going to be an additional expense,” he said. “They are going to have to bear that cost too.”
As for the law enforcement costs the state has taken on, Stenehjem said it’s possible those would also be included in any legal action. He said those costs were brought on by the Corps’ decision to allow protesters on its land without a permit.
“Our ability to recoup that is a little less certain than the requirement that they clean it up at their expense,” he said. “But if there’s a way that we can do that, we certainly will.”
The estimated state and local costs for the law enforcement response to the protests have totaled almost $33 million since August, the North Dakota Joint Information Center reported earlier this month. Stenehjem indicated the cleanup costs are yet to be determined.
The North Dakota National Guard has incurred nearly $9 million in costs — including personnel, equipment, meals and lodging — for protest response since Aug. 10.