North Dakota's bill rises for oil pipeline protest costs

By JAMES MacPHERSON Markets Associated Press

North Dakota officials on Monday approved borrowing more cash from the state-owned bank to cover policing costs related to protests over the Dakota Access pipeline.

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The North Dakota Emergency Commission, headed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, voted to borrow an additional $5 million to cover law enforcement costs, bringing the total line of credit from the Bank of North Dakota to $43 million, the bulk of which likely will have to be repaid by state taxpayers.

Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, the leader of the state's National Guard, said some bills are still coming in from state agencies and 11 states that provided law enforcement help. But he said the current loan amount should cover all costs.

"We continue to work with agencies so we can settle this up and close this thing," Dohrmann told the commission.

North Dakota's costs resulted from about six months of protests against the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to move North Dakota oil to Illinois. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of opponents camped in southern North Dakota, often clashing with police and National Guard soldiers. There were 761 arrests in the region between early August and late February.

Dohrmann said $2.4 million of the updated loan amount will be used to cover court and attorney fees for "indigent defense," though those costs could decrease with many of the cases getting dismissed.

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The pipeline began moving crude in June.

Also Monday, the commission formally accepted a $10 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department to help pay some of the law enforcement bills. North Dakota officials, including the state's congressional delegation, have long pushed for federal reimbursement to cover all costs related to the protests.

State Rep. Al Carlson, the majority leader in North Dakota's House and a member of the commission, called the $10 million grant "a nice start." But he said the federal government is obliged to pick up the entire tab because the protesters based themselves on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land without a permit, and federal officials wouldn't evict them due to free speech reasons.

"They owe us the rest of the money," Carlson said of the federal government. "This should not fall on the backs of North Dakotans."

Burgum asked President Donald Trump for a disaster declaration to cover the costs of the protest, but the request was denied.

Burgum also hasn't ruled out taking up Energy Transfer Partners' longstanding offer to pay the state costs.

"Everything is on the table," the Republican governor said. "I'm open to whatever source of money and where it may come from."

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the total line of credit is $43 million.