Police say they are poised to clear oil pipeline protesters

Protesters against the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline block a highway in near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP)

CANNON BALL, N.D. (AP) — Law enforcement officials said on Wednesday they are poised to remove about 200 protesters trying to halt the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota after the demonstrators refused to leave private land owned by the pipeline company.

Officers with county sheriff’s offices, the state Highway Patrol and the National Guard asked protesters to move off the site on Wednesday morning and were rebuffed. The authorities then left.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney later told reporters that authorities don’t want a confrontation but that protesters “are not willing to bend.”

“We have the resources. We could go down there at any time,” he said. “We’re trying not to.”

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said authorities would continue to try for a peaceful resolution but that “we are here to enforce the law as needed.”

Protesters vowed to stay put. “We’re going to hold this ground,” said Mekasi Camp Horinek. About 200 activists moved onto the site last weekend to fight the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline, which they fear could harm cultural sites and drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the $3.8 billion pipeline, said Tuesday that the protesters were trespassing and that “lawless behavior will not be tolerated.”

Protests supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s opposition to the pipeline have been ongoing for months, with more than 260 people arrested so far in North Dakota. The pipeline is slated to carry oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, where shippers can send it on to Midwest and Gulf Coast markets. Energy Transfer Partners has said the pipeline is nearly complete other than the work in south central North Dakota.

Local sheriff’s officials had said they didn’t have the resources to immediately remove activists from the private land, which is just north of the main protest camp on federal land near Cannon Ball, a town about 50 miles south of Bismarck. But officers said that could change as reinforcements arrived from other states.

The tribe has five ambulances on standby Wednesday, along with 32 emergency workers — with no one allowed to take time off, tribal health director Margaret Gates said.

“Our concern is chaos,” she said. “Our concern is for the safety and well-being of everybody. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

One notable clash came on Sept. 3, after construction crews removed topsoil from private land that protesters believe contained Native American burial and cultural sites. Authorities said four security guards and two guard dogs were injured. The tribe said protesters reported that six people were bitten by security dogs and at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed.

The state and pipeline company dispute that any sacred grounds have been disturbed during the construction.

North Dakota’s Emergency Commission approved $6 million in emergency funding for law enforcement costs related to the protest — but as of Wednesday, nearly all of that had been used up. The Department of Emergency Services plans to ask for more, Fong said.

The protest has drawn the attention of activists and celebrities, including actress-activist Shailene Woodley and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and actor Mark Ruffalo were at the protest camp Wednesday. Jackson said he was there “to pray together, protest together and if necessary go to jail together.”