If there are anti-Keystone XL protests, South Dakota counties will be on front line

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Some of South Dakota’s county government officials have been privately meeting with state government officials to discuss ways they can be ready, in case protests turn violent in their areas against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Information presented Wednesday to the South Dakota Public Safety Communications Council was that the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications has received some radio equipment that is capable of encrypted messages.

The devices came from North Dakota, where they were used during the months-long protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Opponents congregated primarily at the point south of Bismarck where the DAPL pipeline was laid under the Missouri River.

Scott Rechtenbaugh, an assistant director for the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, said the situation now appears to be that TC Energy — formerly TransCanada — won’t start construction until January 2020 and will try to get the entire route finished in one year.

A federal district judge in Montana has temporarily ordered that the company cease most activities along the route.

Jeff Pierce, a BIT engineering manager, said county and state agencies have been preparing. “The primary brunt of this falls back to the counties,” he said. “A lot of this is getting them ready.”

“The state’s actually secondary,” Pierce added. It’s going to be their (the counties’) requesting equipment from us, if they need it.”

Various groups including several tribal organizations opposed the Keystone XL during its South Dakota construction permit hearing by the state Public Utilities Commission. The regulators allowed the pipeline to proceed with many conditions through a 2010 permit that was certified again in 2014.

The pipeline would carry crude oil mined from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, through Montana, South Dakota and into Nebraska, where it would connect with an existing pipeline network.

The 313-mile route through western South Dakota goes through portions of Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp counties. The South Dakota portion also would feature seven pump stations, with two apiece in Harding and Tripp and one each in Meade, Haakon, and Jones.

The proposed route avoids entering any established Indian reservation. But many tribal people oppose the pipeline’s construction, because it would cross through territory that the federal government originally ceded to the Great Sioux Nation. Smaller reservations later were established by federal law.

The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that three groups — Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Yankton Sioux Tribe and Dakota Rural Action — didn’t have standing to appeal the 2015 certification because no one appealed the state commission’s 2010 permit.

Several elected tribal officials testified in the 2019 session of the South Dakota Legislature against a proposal that would provide financial protection to county governments against what is called riot-boosting that could be encouraged by outside parties.

Governor Kristi Noem introduced the legislation, which requires the pipeline to post a bond and threatens agitators with financial penalties. The South Dakota County Commissioners Association supported passage.

Noem however didn’t consult any of the nine tribal governments whose reservations share the same geography as the state of South Dakota. State lawmakers quickly approved both bills.

Several tribal governments subsequently said they didn’t want Noem to display their flags in the Capitol as she had earlier suggested.

Unlike the North Dakota protest, which was focused at one opposition camp, Keystone XL would run near four large reservations governed by the Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Oglala and Rosebud tribes.

DCI’s Rechtenbaugh said it’s unclear where protests might occur, other than where the XL would cross the Cheyenne River and the White River. “It’s kind of a guessing game,” he said.

Pierce said it’s also unclear about whether there could be more than one protest. “The unknown scope of this is how many simultaneous situations we have going on,” he said. “We don’t know how much equipment we’re going to need.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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