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Pressure mounts on Obama to end Dakota pipeline standoff

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota’s governor and congressional delegation are pressuring President Obama to pave the way for completion of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline, protests over which they say are taxing law enforcement and are costing millions of dollars.

Republicans Gov. Jack Dalrymple, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer implored the Democrat in a letter Wednesday to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to approve the pipeline’s crossing under a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota.

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It is the final large segment of the $3.8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline to carry North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois that’s been held up while the Corps consults with the Standing Rock Sioux, who believe the project could harm the tribe’s drinking water and Native American cultural sites. Months of protests have taken place near Lake Oahe.

Obama raised the possibility of rerouting the pipeline earlier this month, which Kelcy Warren, CEO of pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, told The Associated Press is not an option from the company’s standpoint. Obama said his administration is monitoring the “challenging situation” but would “let it play out for several more weeks.”

“Your inaction on the pending easement has created undue hardship and uncertainty for area residents, private landowners, tribal members, construction workers and law enforcement personnel,” Dalrymple, Hoeven and Cramer told Obama.

In this image provided by Morton County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement and protesters clash near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Cannon Ball, N.D.  AP

Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Wednesday she also pressed the White House to make a decision, saying inaction “has put lives at risk.”

Protests have intensified in recent weeks, with total arrests since August rising to 528, and a clash earlier in the week near the main protest camp left a police officer and several protesters injured. One of them, Sophia Wilansky, 21, of New York, suffered an arm injury in an explosion during the skirmish and is hospitalized in Minneapolis. Protesters say she was injured by a grenade thrown by police, while police say she was hurt by a small propane tank that protesters rigged to explode.

The protests have garnered the attention of several celebrities, two of which - Jane Fonda and Shailene Woodley - will be at the Standing Rock reservation Thursday to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to about 2,000 protesters.

The North Dakota lawmakers also asked for federal law enforcement help to police the protests. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Monday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be providing some Border Patrol agents to help his department, the state Highway Patrol and officers from other states, though he didn’t say how many.

Another issue for the state is the cost of policing the protests, which is up to more than $11.8 million, state Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong said Wednesday. The department will seek another $7 million in emergency borrowing on Nov. 30 on top of the $10 million borrowed earlier this year, Fong said. Morton County also has spent more than $8 million policing protests, and county officials have said they may apply for state reimbursement.

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