JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Halcyon Days Are Gone

In the halcyon days of the 1970s in North Dakota, when the state was a quieter, kinder, friendlier, more thoughtful place, the Legislature passed a bill, and the governor signed it, designating the Little Missouri River as our state’s only official State Scenic River and creating a commission to look out for it.

The Little Missouri Scenic River Commission did its job through the administrations of four governors who cared about the Bad Lands and its river — Art Link, Allen Olson, George Sinner and Ed Schafer — two Democrats and two Republicans. It met regularly, rerouted proposed pipelines to protect trees, kept gravel miners, oil drillers, seismologists and road builders out of the river valley, made sure oil wells and tank batteries were above the bluff line well away from the river and even passed rules regulating barbed-wire fences across the river.

Then came the administrations of John “Good-Paying Jobs Uber Alles” Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple, and the commission faded into obscurity. It ceased to meet, and its rules ceased to be enforced, and soon the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley began.

Oil wells started showing up on the riverbank, just yards from the river. The state engineer began issuing industrial water permits to take water from the river for fracking, in direct violation of the law (600 of them at last count). The roar of diesel trucks and jake brakes, and the steady thump, thump of one lung pumpjacks, echoed throughout the valley.

With the election of Doug Burgum, who was an easterner, but owned a Bad Lands ranch, there was some hope that the state’s only Scenic River might once again get some special attention at the highest levels of government. Didn’t happen. Oh, Burgum reformulated the commission, but then he asked it, as its first official act, to ratify a policy making it legal, for the first time in more than 40 years, to use Little Missouri State Scenic River water for industrial purposes — read: fracking. They did that this week.

The commission is an interesting mix of folks. By law, it is composed of six Bad Lands ranchers, one from each of the six Bad Lands counties, and three bureaucrats — the state engineer, the state health officer and the state parks director. For the first 25 years of its existence, it carried out its mission, with reasonable ranchers who really cared about the river valley, and dedicated state employees from the State Parks and Health Departments and state engineer’s office, teaming up to fulfill its mission, as outlined in Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code: “to maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

The law also says the commission “shall also have the power and duties of promulgating management policies to coordinate all activities within the confines of the Little Missouri River when such action is deemed necessary.”

One of the things they did with that authority, to help “maintain the recreation quality” of the river, was to adopt a fencing policy, which said that fences across the river “must have a gated opening of at least 8 feet.” They adopted that policy at a meeting in April 1995.

Now, I’ve been canoeing the Little Missouri for more than 40 years, and for the first 35 years, I rarely encountered a fence across the river. Once or twice in all those years. But a few years ago, Lillian and I canoed from the Logging Camp Ranch, south of Medora, into Medora, a trip we’ve done probably half a dozen times. And in that 40 or so river miles, we encountered eight fences across the river, none of which had gates. We were forced to get out and portage around every one of them. On about fence No. 6, I angrily vowed to bring a wire cutter with me the next time I canoed that stretch of the river. I cooled down after a couple of beers in Medora, and instead just decided to never canoe that stretch of the river again. And I haven’t. Which is too bad, since it is the stretch that goes around Bullion Butte, one of the nicest places on the entire river. Entire planet, for that matter.

Later, I asked a rancher down in that country why there were so many fences all of a sudden. He said, “Jim, neighbors don’t get along like they used to.”

Well, he’s right, of course. In the halcyon days, cattle along that stretch ran free and were rounded up and sorted in the spring for branding. Now, fences keep everyone’s herds separate.

I’m writing all this on the heels of this week’s Scenic River Commission meeting in Dickinson, at which the commission was asked to weigh in on three issues.

The first was Burgum’s policy of allowing for industrial use of water from the river for fracking. The policy was adopted by the State Water Commission, which Burgum chairs, about a year ago, but the Scenic River Commission mulled it over for a while before finally giving it the okay this week.

So instead of looking out for the river, maintaining its “scenic, historic and recreational qualities,” the first official action of the newly formed commission was to give its blessing to the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River. There are already approved industrial water permits at 10 ranches on the river right now. Who knows how many there will be in a year, or five years.

The second was a request for support for the new bridge across the Little Missouri River north of Medora. The group discussed it for more than an hour before commission member Gene Allen from Beach made a motion to support the “no-build” alternative laid out in the Environmental Impact Statement, which would have put the commission on record as opposing the new bridge. That brought Billings County Commission chairman Jim Arthaud roaring from the audience to the front of the room, where he took over the meeting and said in no uncertain terms that Billings County needed and deserved the bridge.

Well, after more discussion, the motion failed on a 5-3 vote, with only Allen, Slope County rancher John Hanson and Parks Director Melissa Baker voting in favor of it.  Then there was silence while commission chairman Joe Schettler, Dunn County’s representative on the commission waited for a motion to support the bridge. No motion was forthcoming. So, after a long pause, Schettler recessed the meeting for a bathroom break. So the commission took no position on the bridge.

The third was a discussion of the illegal bridge already built over the river in Dunn County by Wylie Bice, which I wrote about the other day. After some discussion, the group decided that since the bridge is already there, not much can be done about it. So they gave it tacit approval.

But the discussion turned to the idea that it was actually the Corps of Engineers fault the bridge was there because they signed off on the bridge but hadn’t checked with the Bureau of Land Management, on whose land the bridge is located, to see if it was OK with them. So the group passed a motion to send a letter to the Corps asking them to please share information on things like this.

I found it a bit ironic that a bunch of conservative ranchers were urging the government agencies to share personal information with each other. Guess it depends on the situation.

So now, the commission moves on to other things — what other things I am not sure. It’s an interesting group. The county representatives are appointed by the county commissioners. They must be ranchers who live on the river, except for the Golden Valley County representative (lawyer Gene Allen from Beach). (Golden Valley is one of the Bad Lands counties even though the river doesn’t flow through it.)

A couple of them take their responsibility to protect the river seriously. More of them are there to protect their county’s economic interests by not letting environmental protection get in the way of the industry that fuels their county’s economy — oil. The chairman himself has an industrial water permit and sells water from the river to the frackers. To be fair, he hasn’t been voting on these things, saying he will only vote to break a tie.

State Parks director Melissa Baker is there to protect the river. State Engineer Garland Erbele is there to do what engineers do — build things. He’s no friend of the river. The Health Department is represented by Dave Glatt, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. He’s a lackey for the energy industry, Burgum’s worst appointment to date, who can’t be trusted to stick up for the river. He voted FOR the industrial water permit policy and AGAINST the motion to oppose the new bridge in Billings County, even though it has the potential to be the worst environmental problem ever to face the river if the oil trucks start crossing through the valley by the hundreds, or thousands, as the county has predicted. I told him after Monday’s meeting that, as the state’s top environmental officer, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

So what we’ve got, I was moaning to a friend of mine who knows these issues, is what we asked for: an active Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. I guess we have to be more careful about what we ask for. It’s just a rubber stamp for the energy industry, I complained to my friend. And that is bad because their approval of things like industrial water permits and bridges (and who knows what else in the future) gives those who would abuse the Little Missouri State Scenic River the credibility of having been approved and endorsed by an official state government commission.

A couple of years ago I began writing about the need to reactivate the commission. I really, really wanted to bring it back and put it to work protecting the river from industrial development. I remember those halcyon days when the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission members really, really cared about the river. And I really, really long for those days again, I told my friend.

“Jim,” he said, “things are different now. You need to lower your expectations.”

I guess.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Gov. Burgum Needs To Take Responsibility For His Actions

I don’t think North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has a disingenuous bone in his body. But sometimes political naivete can make someone appear disingenuous (actually, my definition of disingenuous is “fake naivete”).

There’s still a bit of naivete in Burgum. The transition from the business world to government is not an easy one. He’s still learning, although he’s a pretty fast learner. And when count on your ability to learn fast, in the public eye, for all the world to see, you can make mistakes.

So I’m writing off his charge to the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission to approve an industrial water policy for the Little Missouri State Scenic River as naivete, a mistake and not disingenuousness. Let me explain what I am talking about.

As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, the North Dakota Legislature last May approved, and Gov. Burgum signed, legislation authorizing the use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River for fracking oil wells.

Ever since 1975, until that day in May 2017, it had been illegal to use Little Missouri River water for industrial purposes, like fracking. That policy was part of the “Little Missouri Scenic River Act” passed by the 1975 North Dakota Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Art Link.

But the state engineer over at the Water Commission office had been illegally issuing industrial water permits from the Little Missouri for about 15 years, more than 600 of them, and the Water Commission, chaired by the governor (Govs. Hoeven and Dalrymple), had been approving them. So the change in the law served the purpose of making those permits legal.

Conservationists, having observed how little regard for the law and for the environment existed in the Capitol, opposed the change to the more-than-40-year-old law and let Burgum know about it, asking him to veto the bill. Ignoring those pleas, he signed the bill but then took a series of executive actions.

While the new law allowed free and open access to the entire Little Missouri River for industrialization, Burgum initially limited that to just the part of the river downstream from the Long-X Bridge, which is located on the east end of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Essentially, he allowed industrial water use in the last 40 miles of the river before it flows into Lake Sakakawea. That stretch of the river is mostly in Dunn County, where most of the heavy oil activity near the river takes place. So he really didn’t slow down development by limiting industrial water use on the rest of the river.

In doing that, he protected all three units of the national park from industrial development. For the time being, that is. Because he said this was going to be an “interim policy,” and he told his state engineer over at the State Water Commission office to present some options for a more permanent policy.

A month later, the engineers at the Water Commission office did just that, and at a State Water Commission meeting in June, Burgum joined his fellow Water Commission members in voting to open up the entire Little Missouri State Scenic River Basin to industrial water use, backtracking from his earlier policy of protecting the national parks.

He and the Water Commission did that with no public hearings and no public input. They just listened as the Water Commission engineers presented four different possible levels of development and recommended the most destructive one, and the Water Commission adopted it. No one except the engineers and the commission members got to address the issue. I guess that’s the way Burgum did things in the business world. But it shouldn’t happen in state government. Public comment should be required when major decisions like this are made by appointed boards, chaired by the governor.

I remember the days in the 1970s, when Art Link and Myron Just were the two elected members of the Water Commission — I was actually working for Myron back then — and they’d never have done anything like that. God, I long for those days again.

So in June, just six weeks after the Legislature passed a bill allowing industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley (another law change that had no public hearing because it was an amendment slapped onto the end of the Water Commission budget bill with just days to go in the session), and Burgum signed it into law, Burgum had a new “interim policy” on industrial use of the Little Missouri State Scenic River — anything goes.

But that’s when he did something I view as disingenuous.

He said he wanted this “interim policy” to be in effect until it was presented to his newly reactivated Little Missouri Scenic River Commission for its approval. Once approved, which he expected, this would become permanent policy.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission was also created in 1975 by the Scenic River Act but that it had essentially been discharged of its duties by Govs. John Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple. In other words, it quit meeting.

Those duties outlined in the law were to “advise local or other units of government to afford the protection adequate to maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

So Burgum was asking the Scenic River Commission to give the final approval for the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River, which would seem to be in direct conflict with the commission’s charge under the law to maintain the river’s “scenic, historic and recreational qualities.”

The way he asked them was to send an engineer out to their meeting in Dickinsn in October and ask the Scenic River Commission to approve the interim policy of the Water Commission, so it could become a permanent policy. You read that right. He asked the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission to give its blessing to a permanent policy that would allow industrial use of Little Missouri River water over the entire length of the river in North Dakota.

The appearance that gave was that Burgum had assuaged the conservation community by reactivating the Scenic River Commission, and then the very first thing he asked them to do was approve an industrial water policy. It just makes no sense. That’s not the Doug Burgum I know. Or used to know.

Luckily, the Scenic River Commission demurred, saying they wanted more time to think about it. I don’t think Burgum, or the engineers who passionately presented their case to the Commission, expected that. But to the general public, and those of us paying attention to all this, it gave the appearance that the commission was doing its job, maintaining the river’s “scenic, historic and recreational qualities.”

Good for them.

I wrote in an earlier blog that the policy is likely to be revisited at the commission’s next meeting, either with a presentation by the same engineers who pitched it at the last meeting, or maybe that the Governor himself should come and pitch it. Well, I’ve changed my mind about that.

I think that is a bad spot to put the commission in. There were a lot of people in the audience at the last Scenic River Commission meeting who finally got a chance to speak against the policy. Commission members appeared to listen.

I think both the governor and the engineers should stay home from the next meeting and let the commission get on with selecting an agenda for itself that indeed involves maintaining the “scenic, historic and recreational qualities” of the river. To do anything else would be disingenuous of the governor. I hope he gets that by now.

If he wants to adopt a permanent policy to industrialize the Little Missouri, let him do that. Don’t try to pass that off to a volunteer group charged with just the opposite. That’s the definition of disingenuous. Not naivete.

I’m posting a few pictures with this story that I made by scanning the Little Missouri Scenic River Valley on Google Earth. Take a look at them. They show what’s been going on the last few years as a result of the state engineer issuing illegal water permits and the absence of oversight by the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission during the Hoeven and Dalrymple administrations.

Take a look at the well pads and water depots just yards from the state’s only officially designated State Scenic River. This is what needs to stop. I really hope the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission will step in and do what the law that created it allows them to do. Here’s that law:

61-29-05. Powers and duties of commission. The commission may advise local or other units of government to afford the protection adequate to maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams. The commission shall also have the power and duties of promulgating management policies to coordinate all activities within the confines of the Little Missouri River when such action is deemed necessary.

Who’s In Charge?  

Footnote: The Little Missouri State Scenic River Act was the brainchild of an early North Dakota State Parks director, Gary Leppart. He wrote the legislation and recruited a couple of local Republican legislators — Earl Rundle from New England and Karnes Johnson from Sentinel Butte, to sponsor it. Those two were enormously popular back home, and their legislative districts encompassed most of the Little Missouri River Valley. They helped bring local support for the bill, which might have been seen as an intrusion by state government into local affairs had Leppart not had local Republicans as sponsors. Rundle, who stood about 5-foot-4 with an enormous girth and an ever-present cigar, actually got in a canoe and went for a trip down river to show his support. My friend Mike Jacobs, who was a reporter at the Dickinson Press at the time, went along. He tells a pretty good story about the trip.

Leppart told me just the other day that “There really wasn’t any entity to oversee the river, so we just assumed the State Parks Department could do it. But I thought there should be some local input, that we should get people who lived beside it, to get involved. That’s why we wrote the law the way we did. And the support of local legislators helped get it passed.”

The law provided for six Bad Lands ranchers and three state officials — the state Parks director, the state engineer and the atate health officer — to serve on the commission. The commission was staffed by the State Parks Department. The Parks director served as the official secretary of the commission, and the Parks director’s staff handled the details of setting up meetings and distributing minutes. For many years, the Parks director managed the affairs of the commission, alerting members of issues they needed to deal with, and scheduling meetings to deal with them.

Burgum changed that when he reactivated the commission, handing the administrative duties over to the state engineer’s office. That was a bad idea. The state engineer implements state water policy. Engineers need to engineer things. Generally, they aren’t concerned with “scenic, historic and recreational qualities.” That’s just their nature.

On the other hand, those are the EXACT things State Parks directors do — “maintain scenic, historic and recreational qualities” of special places set aside for the public’s enjoyment. Leppart kept a close eye on this commission, and kept it active, as did his successors, Bob Horne and Doug Eiken. But Doug Prchal and Mark Zimmerman, who succeeded them, ignored it, and the result was rampant development along the river valley, aided and abetted by 600 illegal water permits issued by their sister agency, the state engineer’s office and by an Oil and Gas Division director who never learned to say “No.”

I blame Prchal and Zimmerman for the massive development on the banks of the Little Missouri State Scenic River today as much as I do the state engineers who issued those water permits and the Oil and Gas Division directors who issued drilling permits and oil tank battery permits beside the river. Although I truly believe the real blame lies with Hoeven and Dalrymple, who were rolling over for the oil industry. The bureaucrats were likely just following orders, and to not follow them would have meant their jobs, I suspect.

But I think Burgum didn’t know a lot of that history and didn’t think through who should be managing the Scenic River Commission when he reactivated it, and so he put the state engineer in charge.

It’s time to move that back to the Parks Department. The people there care about things like scenery, and history, and recreation. And they care about the river, and the river valley, and the Bad Lands, and the environment. Good for them. Let’s put them in charge of the whole state!

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Sellout Of Van Hook Park

WARNING: In this article, I’m going to rip some North Dakota politicians a new one. This isn’t personal, and it isn’t partisan. They’ve got it coming because of malfeasance in office. I’m not going to pull any punches. They deserve it. I know I’ve been pretty critical of some of our state’s leaders lately. Sorry. But we’ve got some really bad shit going on in our state, and someone has to talk about it. Our leaders are failing us.

This article appears in the current issue of Dakota Country magazine. The big boys who read that magazine possess about 90 percent of the guns and three-quarters of all the testosterone in North Dakota, so if they can stand my rants, so can you.

Now, first a little background.

There’s a little resort community called Van Hook Park on the north end of Lake Sakakawea, named for the town that formerly existed nearby until it was flooded by the waters backed up behind the Garrison Dam. It’s nothing fancy. Two hundred or so trailers and cabins, a bait shop and convenience store, gravel streets and a campground with 100 RV sites.

The Van Hook recreational community sits on land partly owned by the Corps of Engineers and partly by the Mountrail County Park Board. There’s a park manager and a cabin owners association to manage the facilities there. At times, when the walleye bite is on, the boat ramp next to the campground and cabin sites is the busiest boat ramp on Lake Sakakawea.

Fishing has been good over the years in what is known as the Van Hook Arm of Lake Sakakawea. Cabin owners have been happy, and users of the park and boat ramp, who come from all over western and central North Dakota, spend happy weekends there. Other than the hum of outboards during the day, and the singing of shorebirds and warblers at daybreak and dusk, it’s been a pretty quiet place. Until now.

This spring, an oil company named Slawson Exploration moved in beside the resort, and with its huge machinery, began clearing a 25-acre site at the top of the boat ramp, which will be home to an 11-well oil pad. The site is just a few hundred yards from the park and the homes in the community. Drilling could start there any day now.

Mountrail County officials, cabin and trailer owners and members of the Friends of Lake Sakakawea learned of the development last summer, long after it been permitted by the North Dakota Industrial Commission. And they’re pretty concerned.

Concerned because in December 2012, the same company had a huge blowout on a well a little ways east of the resort, which resulted in more than 50,000 gallons of saltwater and oil mist spewing almost a mile onto the ice of Lake Sakakawea.

“Our greatest fear,” says Terry Fleck, president of the Friends of Lake Sakakawea and a cabin owner at Van Hook, “is what happens if they have a blowout at the boat ramp when there are 200 boats on the water waiting to return to the resort?”

The thing is, this didn’t have to happen. You might recall a few years ago, North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote an administrative rule that he brought to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in North Dakota, to restrict drilling within a mile of what he called “extraordinary places,” — places that should be protected from industrial development. The list included state and national parks, wildlife refuges, the Little Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea.

In early 2014, he took the rule, with great fanfare, to a meeting of the Industrial Commission, being chaired at that time by the governor, oil industry sycophant Jack Dalrymple. It didn’t fly — Dalrymple and the oil industry objected. And Stenehjem quickly backed away. Instead he proposed, and the commission adopted, a “policy” of trying to keep the oil wells a mile away from the “extraordinary places,” except that the policy only applied to proposed wells on public land. And it did not have the force of law, so it had no teeth.

And so, proposals to put wells right up against national park borders or Lake Sakakawea’s shore were just fine with Stenehjem, Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Goehring, the third member of the Industrial Commission, as long as they were on private land. Even those on public land only get a little scrutiny today — and can still be approved. Basically, it’s a policy with no teeth. Which is just what the oil industry likes.

And in the era of horizontal drilling, where wells can be placed anywhere and pipes run as far as three miles underground to get that oil, it didn’t take long for the oil industry to ferret out private landowners willing to take tens of thousands, often hundreds of thousands, of dollars for little pieces of land for the placement of oil wells beside lakes, rivers, wildlife refuges and parks.

I was at the meeting when the “policy” was adopted, and I can assure you that no one there was surprised by Stenehjem’s retreat at Dalrymple’s insistence. We all knew that the oil and gas industry had contributed more than $600,000 to Dalrymple’s election campaign two years earlier, and their shill in the governor’s office was not going to let them down.

Stenehjem and Goehring were richly rewarded by the industry in their subsequent election campaigns later in 2014. In early 2015, after they had been re-elected, Slawson Exploration submitted a request for a drilling permit for their Van Hook project, and it was approved by the same three men who had adopted the toothless policy a year earlier — Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Goehring.  Because Slawson had found, and rewarded handsomely, a landowner who had land right up to the lake, they were going to drill on private land and the “policy” didn’t apply to them.

Slaswon kept it pretty quiet, until the federal government issued a call for comments on the project last year, a necessary step because the government owns some of the oil under the lake. Slawson leased the drilling rights under the lake, and once Slawson had the minerals and a piece of private land on which to place the wells, there was no stopping them.

When the news got out last summer, the Friends of Lake Sakakawea and Mountrail County sent a letter to Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Goehring asking them to order that the pad be moved back away from the lake. They never received a response.

Slawson did agree to a meeting with the Friends of Lake Sakakawea last summer. The group’s president, Terry Fleck, said the company agreed to move the well pad back “a considerable distance” from the lake. They left the meeting feeling they didn’t need to protest further.

Turns out that was a mistake. Slawson had a different definition of “considerable” than the Friends group had. Locals learned that only when the stakes for the pad went in this spring — less than a fifth of a mile from the boat ramp and just a few hundred yards from the trailers and lake homes in the resort.

Fleck, Mountrail County State’s Attorney Wade Enget and a Mountrail County commissioner all told me this spring that they had done everything legally possible to move the project away from the lake. But their hands were tied by the Industrial Commission.

When Slawson asked the county to upgrade the road to the site, the county basically told them to go jump in the lake. Slawson then built its own road to the site. And there are signs on both ends of the resort community telling Slawson to keep out of town. The sites are so close to the town, though, that the noise from dirt work, drilling and well service operations will pretty much ruin the ambiance of the previously sleepy little community. And the lights from the 24-hour operation will eliminate the precious dark night skies that lake residents and campers have come to value.

And there’s more. When Slawson finished the dirt work on its pad at the boat ramp on the west side of the village this spring, it moved over to the other side and began building another one. That caught everyone by surprise. It seems that when they applied for the one at the boat ramp, they also applied for, and were granted, one on the east side of town, again just a few hundred yards from the shoreline and residences.

Through all the public furor and meetings with the Friends organization last year, the oil company never mentioned they were going to drill on both sides of the town.

It’s really hard to imagine what the Industrial Commission was thinking when it allowed the company to bookend the little resort community with oil wells. There’ll be at least 14 wells, possibly 17, and maybe a saltwater injection well, within shouting distance of the resort’s residents. The cacophony from the dirt work, then the drilling, with thousands of trucks hauling fracking water (I’ve read it takes a thousand truckloads of water to frack a well), and then the trucks to service the wells, is almost beyond comprehension. Not to mention the disaster if (when?) another blowout occurs.

According to a story in the Bismarck Tribune this spring, Slawson operates 300 wells in the Bakken and has reported 142 oil fluid spills. It has been fined by the state of North Dakota in only five of those cases, by — you guessed it — the Industrial Commission, although the little fines the state issues are more of a bother than a financial burden to the company.

But the federal government didn’t let them off so easy. The EPA had to be called in to investigate numerous Clean Air Act violations, and it found Slawson had inadequate vapor control systems on its storage tanks at oil and natural gas well pads, resulting in an estimated 15,000 tons of methane and other poisonous gases per year being released into the clean North Dakota air.

Just last December, the EPA fined Slawson $2.1 million and is requiring the company to install $5.6 million worth of vapor control systems and gauges on its well sites here. That’s still small potatoes to the company, though, just another cost of doing business. After all, Slawson will spend more than $100 million to develop the two Van Hook well sites.

Now, with the sellout of the community by the Industrial Commission a fait accompli, and with drilling under way, the county and the resort residents are putting together a list of things they’d like Slawson to do to try to mitigate some of the damage and danger to the lake and the resort community — and the chaos it is creating in this quiet little bay on Lake Sakakawea. We’ll know what those things are later this year. There are a couple of things we know now, for sure, though. You can’t mitigate evil politicians. And you can’t mitigate oil company greed.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Long, Strange Saga Of Jason Halek Comes To An End

Well, it looks like Jason Halek (pictured above) is finally going to the pokey.

Remember Jason? He’s the fellow who dumped more than 800,000 gallons of salty, oilfield wastewater into an abandoned oil well southwest of Dickinson in Stark County, North Dakota, and then attempted to cover it up.

And his partner in crime, Nathan Garber, might be sitting in the cell next to him after they are sentenced this summer by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland in Bismarck, putting an end to a case that has dragged on for more than five years.

This is the eighth story I’ve written about these two guys in those five years, and with any luck, it’ll be the next to last, with the final one coming after they are put in a big black van headed for a jailhouse July 31, the date of their sentencing.

GUILTY

Jason Halek has pleaded guilty in a plea agreement signed just two weeks ago, Feb. 21, to three counts of violating the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act. In return for the guilty plea on those three charges, 10 other charges against him have been dropped.

Garber pleaded guilty a couple of years go to 11 federal charges, similar to Halek’s. He has not yet been sentenced because his willingness to testify against Halek would help determine how harshly the government wanted to treat him. Now that Halek has copped a plea, Garber’s lawyer will have to bargain with a judge and federal prosecutors for a lenient sentence, since he was the big hammer in getting Halek to plead guilty. I’d be surprised if his sentence is any stiffer than Halek’s. Both men also face substantial fines for their actions.

A $1.5 MILLION HEADLINE

So that’s what’s happened lately. Everything’s done but the sentencing. Let’s go back and review a little bit.

What first got me interested in these guys was a big black headline screaming off the front page of the Bismarck Tribune in July 2012 with news of the “largest environmental violation fine ever” in North Dakota — $1.5 million — against a company called Halek Operating.

The owner, Jason Halek, and his manager, Garber, who was in the process of buying him out, dumped the saltwater from a failed drilling operation down an abandoned oil well in December 2011. North Dakota’s oilfield investigations team found out about it and busted them both.

Halek threw his hands in the air and said, “Garber did it. I didn’t know anything about it.”

“Bullshit,” said Garber, “I’m not taking the rap for this. Halek told me to do it.”

Or something like that. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Well, Lynn Helms, director of the Oil and Gas Division, which is charged with enforcing oilfield environmental violations, took his charges against Halek Operating — civil, not criminal, and against the company, not the men — to the N.D. Industrial Commission, and it levied the $1.5 million fine. And the members puffed up their chests and strutted around the Governor’s Conference Room like peacocks on a mating binge.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple huffed and puffed and said, “There will not be any exceptions or leniency when these things happen.”

“The key thing is this guy is not doing business again in North Dakota, and that’s a good thing,” said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. “We are not going to tolerate this.”

And Oil and Gas Division Director Lynn Helms chimed in, “It’s a very serious violation, and it needs to be dealt with in a very serious manner. They’ve tripled the risk of contaminating a drinking water zone with this well. It takes many, many years to clean it up, if it can be done at all.”

Well, la de da.

SECOND CHANCE POLICY

The Industrial Commission’s order stated: “The sum of the fines … is $1,525,000 and Halek Operating ND, LLC shall make payment immediately to the Industrial Commission, Oil and Gas Division.”

Halek’s company, of course, didn’t have any money. Its only asset was an abandoned oil well full of poisonous water. I don’t think the state wanted that. To date, five years later, the state has collected just $140,000 from the bond Halek had posted when he got into the oil business. A new definition of “immediately.”

Stenehjem told The Associated Press two years later, in August 2014, that it’s doubtful the state will ever collect the entire fine assessed to Halek Operating. Of course, he and the Governor knew that going in. That did not stop them from making big headlines though.

The thing is, this didn’t need to happen. Just a year earlier, the Industrial Commission had cited Halek for improperly cleaning up an oil spill, also near Dickinson. Halek faced more than $588,000 in potential fines but was ordered to pay less than 10 percent of that with the rest suspended, under North Dakota’s “second chance” policy. Perhaps if he had been made to pay the full fine, he would have been a little more careful in the future.

And as I wrote in an earlier post here, Jason Halek had a checkered past. “Before the company drilled its first well in North Dakota, federal officials say the man behind it (Jason Halek) had swindled $22 million out of 300 investors in a Texas oil and gas project,” according to a story in the Dickinson Press.

The Press cautioned that “state officials overseeing the nation’s oil and gas boom might need to look beyond promoting development and monitoring groundwater and keep their eyes open for plain old fraud.”

Yeah, with his record, perhaps Jason Halek should not have been given another permit to drill for oil in North Dakota. There’s 800,000 gallons of poisonous water under the ground threatening Dickinson’s water supply. Who knows what the outcome of that is going to be?

BRING IN THE FEDS

Well, none of this sat well with the state’s  attorney at the time, Tim Purdon. Because North Dakota wouldn’t file criminal charges against Halek, Purdon called in an investigative team from the Environmental Protection Agency, and it went to work on the case. In the fall of 2015, a federal grand jury, convened by Purdon, acting on behalf of the U.S. government because North Dakota wouldn’t prosecute, returned a 28-page indictment against Halek. The indictment contained 13 felony charges, including one charge for conspiring with Garber to dump the water. But the other 12 were far more interesting.

There were four counts of violating the U.S. Government’s Safe Drinking Water Act. The dumping of 800,000 gallons of toxic saltwater put Dickinson’s drinking water at risk. That’s what brought the EPA team to North Dakota. And those are the charges Halek has now pleaded guilty to, and will be sentenced for, in July.

There were also four counts of obstructing grand jury proceedings — essentially lying to the grand jury or hiding evidence from them, and four counts of “providing false statements to the North Dakota Industrial Commission.”

Those last four were crimes against the state of North Dakota, but the state had chosen not to prosecute, with Stenehjem claiming he didn’t feel he had enough proof against Halek personally. The state did file some criminal charges against Garber, and he pleaded guilty and got a suspended sentence and a $2,500 fine. And that was the end of that, as far as the state was concerned.

But the EPA and Purdon did what the North Dakota Industrial Commission and our own attorney general would not do: they pored through Industrial Commission documents from the Oil and Gas Division and interviewed staff and found out what Helms, Dalrymple, and Stenehjem apparently didn’t want us to know: that Jason Halek had indeed committed crimes against the state of North Dakota.

It took a federal investigation to charge Halek with crimes against the state of North Dakota because North Dakota’s attorney general, Wayne Stenehjem, wouldn’t act, despite having said earlier, “the case will be pursued vigorously in court.”

Well, eventually it was, but by the U.S. Department of Justice, not North Dakota’s attorney general. In Halek’s just-signed plea agreement, the government dropped the crimes committed against the state in return for a conviction on the federal crime, violations of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.That’s what he will be sentenced for July 31.

The bottom line here is, if Tim Purdon and the EPA hadn’t stepped in, Halek would be free forever and the state would have an uncollected fine on its books of $1.4 million, and the case would be history.

STILL FREE — FOR NOW

Halek and Garber remain free today, awaiting sentencing. Halek has been running a used car lot in Texas. I don’t know about Garber. He last lived in Kalispell, Mont. An attorney with the Justice Department in Washington told me Friday that in white-collar crime cases like this, it is not unusual for defendants to remain free until they are sentenced. Well, at least they won’t be free on Aug. 1. Halek anyway.

I’m not sure about Garber. Halek pleaded guilty because Garber had agreed to cooperate with the government in his prosecution. That threat was what likely prompted Halek’s guilty plea on the three Safe Drinking Water charges. We’ll see how good a deal Garber’s attorney can negotiate in return. Based on the federal charges filed, Garber could have faced up to 50 years in prison, but the plea deal calls for 30 to 37 months. It was Halek, after all, who was the big target, and the Department of Justice was able to get him because of Garber’s agreement to testify.

Halek’s plea agreement calls for a 24- to 30-month prison sentence, if the judge accepts it. Environmental attorneys tell me both are pretty stiff sentence for an environmental case.

The state of North Dakota got nothing except $140,000. Halek will get a free ride to a federal prison, his new home, without paying the $530,000 fine from his first violation or about $1.4 million from this violation.

But thanks to the much-beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency, the man behind what the Justice Department calls “the biggest injection well safe drinking water case ever” will at least serve time in jail. What becomes of the 800,000 gallons of poisonous waste water remains to be seen. It’s still down there.

Well, that’s a summary. It’s been a long saga. If want to go back to the very beginning and follow this chronologically, here are the links.

July 26, 2012 – Where it began (You have to scroll down a bit)

July 30, 2013 – The check’s not in the mail

Aug. 7, 2013 – An “egregious” act

Sept. 10, 2013 – “Drill some awesome wells”

Sept. 27, 2013 – First guilty plea

Nov. 29, 2014 – Purdon calls in the feds

Oct. 7, 2015 – 28-page indictment, 13 charges

JOHN STRAND: Taking Liberty — Protecting The Sacred

I needed to go to Cannon Ball, N.D., and see firsthand the Dakota Access pipeline protest site in the heart of Indian Country, a stone’s throw north of Standing Rock Reservation.

When reports Saturday depicted a confrontation between the protestors, who are really protectors, and security personnel armed with dogs and Mace, it was clear I had to go.

Seven of us traveled in two vehicles from Fargo to the Sacred Stones Camp early Sunday morning, arriving there just before 11 a.m. Three are members of the Fargo Native American Commission: Chairman Clinton Alexander, Lenore King, me, as well as Human Relations Commission liaison Tee RedRoad. While en route, at least in my car, the conversation was primarily about Native American issues: stories told, concerns voiced, disappointments lamented.

It was not clear what we were going to find. Rumbling around in my mind were the conflicting stories presented via mainstream and social media. The two versions did not add up.

Some claimed the Dakota Access Pipeline protest is no more than a front for those who unyieldingly oppose oil development. Others asserted it’s about water and the Missouri River not being at risk of contamination, if the pipeline were to leak.

Upon completion, the pipeline would be a conduit for more than half a million barrels of Bakken crude a day. Other pipelines such as the Keystone XL and recently Sandpiper in Minnesota did not survive the public vetting process. Would this happen once again? What would that mean for the tribes and for North Dakota?

Social media videos, pictures and reports showed glimpses of protectors rushing to the front line Saturday to stop bulldozers and payloaders from ripping into sacred sites — and even burial grounds. Court filings Friday identified these exact cultural historic sites and called for protection.

Those sites were dug up and desecrated, according to Native Americans. Official public reports said only that Native Americans perpetrated attacks on pipeline workers, trespassed on private property and attacked those workers.

The heavy construction equipment came from as far as 20 miles away early Saturday. Protectors were stunned and surprised. It was a holiday weekend. Work was not under way at that particular site. A federal court case was coming down the pike by Sept. 9.

Our arrival

Getting to Sacred Stones Camp near Cannon Ball was not difficult, though it did involve taking an alternate route. State Highway 1806, heading south from Mandan along the Missouri River, was closed to southbound traffic as per a state of emergency declared by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

A rainbow hung over the sky southeast of Bismarck-Mandan: the high bluff land along the Missouri is breathtaking and nothing less than spectacular. You easily get the sense you are going into a region considered powerful and sacred by Native Americans and their ancestors, despite the relatively simple existence and poverty in the small Standing Rock Reservation towns of Solen and Cannon Ball.

The main campground became visible from the highway. It resembled a small city, hundreds and hundreds of tents. Conversations stopped; we fell silent.

The roadway into the Sacred Stones Camp was lined with dozens of tribal flags from across the Northern Hemisphere, and at least one from South America; and inside, license plates from practically every state in the nation, as well as Canada.

In light of outside reports of illegal activity and unruly behavior by the protectors, it was reassuring to see quite the opposite. The people — all the people of all walks of life, races and religions — were peaceful. The atmosphere was mournful, solemn, prayerful and heartfelt: families, children, elders, all as one.

A community gathering spot near the main entrance was the center of activities, announcements, prayer songs and speeches. I was one of the speakers, albeit briefly that day, along with Clinton Alexander. Standing Rock Councilman Robert Taken Alive received the Fargo Native American proclamation after which a powerful and moving Sitting Bull prayer song acknowledged our presence.

Angry spirits

Dakota Access workers and equipment had done the unthinkable. Graves had been destroyed, sacred grounds desecrated, ancestors’ spirits disturbed. A ceremony was necessary.

Pretty much a focus of everybody Sunday, the trek to what was left of burial grounds and sacred sites had to begin and could not be postponed.

Preparatory guidance was given: Carry sage and cedar; get smudged before and especially after; no cameras, videos or recordings of the sacred ceremony. The wind was blowing hard, nonstop.

There’s nothing more fundamental to Native American cultures than the connection to ancestors — and the protection of their spirits and final resting places. Saturday’s atrocity, regardless of who was to blame, was blasphemous. Nothing mattered more than attending to that grave circumstance.

Hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand, walked the highway toward that site north of Sacred Stones Camp. A gathering was convened along the way where every person could get smudged and would be given cedar and sage. Tobacco was also an essential for afterward.

A banner emblazoned “Defend the Sacred” led the march. Upon arrival near the sacred grounds, the people en masse left the roadway and walked up the hillside to where the ceremony would take place. Spiritual leaders instructed all to form large circles around the center and called other spiritual leaders, shamans, medicine people and Round Dance leaders to gather in the center.

At the onset, we were told this gathering of the many nations and tribes was the largest of its kind since Little Big Horn. History was in the making, yet spiritual work needed to be done

The experience is difficult to describe, especially coming from the perspective of an outsider.

It was humbling: We were grateful to be trusted outsiders, bearing witness to solemn ritual uniquely theirs. I knew I would never forget it, that it would be an indelible part of my life’s journey.

Several prayer songs ensued. Gestures and signals from leaders gave me only hints of what was unfolding in that inner circle. Intensities rose higher and higher. The mood was solemn and moving, serious and with intention.

After many such prayer songs, the mood changed. A low-key, solemn chant began, remorseful but soothing. Leaders and all turned and offered song and prayer to each of the four directions. It’s just plain hard to describe, except that the feeling I had was one of immense sadness and grief, yet resolve at the same time.

The ceremony concluded, many lines formed to make an exit from that sacred place. Each person was smudged, enveloped in sage smoke, the head, the heart, the body, the back side and even the feet. It was important that no spirits cling and accompany anyone. Relief was in the air, delicate and necessary work accomplished. The work of the Creator, veneration and appeasement of watchful ancestors, proud and powerful.

We walked back to our car, not much to be said. The winds had calmed for the first time that day.

Tony J Bender: That’s Life — Protesters Force Bulldozers Off Sacred Site

The following is a report on the events that are unfolding south of Mandan, N.D., near the boundary of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The story is by Tony Bender and his son, Dylan, and appeared today in the Ashley (N.D.) Tribune and Wishek (N.D.) Star. The accompanying video was shot by Dylan, who is a student at Bismarck State College.

An estimated 300 activists halted construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline during a Saturday protest. Six bulldozers and other pipeline workers retreated in the face of marchers who breached a fence at the worksite. One protester narrowly escaped being crushed by heavy machinery.

The conflict took place at what Standing Rock Sioux tribe officials said is an ancient burial site. They reported significant artifacts had been destroyed by bulldozers, including ancient cairns (stacked stones used as burial markers) and stone prayer rings, an act that might be compared to running a bulldozer through a community cemetery.

Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II said the desecration was intended to provoke protesters. The bulldozers destroyed the site one day after the Standing Rock tribe identified the site’s cultural significance in court documents.

With a DAPL helicopter and an unidentified plane circling overhead, 14 private security officers, most clad in black, confronted marchers with attack dogs and mace.

Several people reported being bitten by the dogs. One handler was also bitten by the excited animals. Some protesters fought off the dogs with sticks. While those maced were attended to, the rest of the protesters, which included four young horsemen riding bareback, refused to back down.

Security team members later told Morton County officials that protesters had eight large knives. Available video footage did not bear that out. Law enforcement was on the scene, late, after the action had subsided.

The $3.8 billion pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, is to be horizontally drilled some 90 feet under the river, on its way from Bakken oilfields in northwest North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Ill.

From there, the oil will travel to Nederland, Texas. In Iowa, protests from farmers about the use of eminent domain for private enterprise have further complicated the project.

The 30-inch pipe will have the capacity to transport 500,000 barrels of crude a day, about half the production of the Bakken. Railcars will continue to transport the rest. The site is located just north of the Standing Rock reservation, near the South Dakota border.

The reservation sprawls across both Dakotas. The pipeline has received approval from the Public Service Commission in North Dakota.

The Sacred Stone Camp lies at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers. It includes the Strong Heart Camp and the Red Warrior Camp, on the north side of the Cannonball River, and the Sicangu and Sacred Stone camps, on the south shore. Before the protest, three boys splashed in the water on the south shore. Canoes glided past silently. One man erected a tipi.

The two-mile uphill protest march was comprised of men, women of all ages and even toddlers, whose parents carried them when they tired in the 90-degree heat.

Pickups loaded with bottled water provided a reminder of what this fight is about.

Pipeline opponents say all pipelines leak and worry a spill would devastate their way of life and those of future generations. Signs read, “Water is life,” or “Mni wiconi,” in Lakota. One mother walking with her young daughter cheerfully repeated the mantra.

The group was comprised of indigenous people from North America — including two Canadians who had promised a husband and a daughter, respectively, not to get arrested. There was at least one representative in the march from Mexico, women in flowing skirts, someone with a Grateful Dead T-shirt and a number of gray-bearded men moving slowly up the hill. Non-natives from around the country made up perhaps a third of the marchers.

The protest began April 1. There have been dozens of arrests, mostly for trespassing. The construction site is on private property. A couple of activists, one of them Dale American Horse, attached themselves to heavy equipment to delay construction. Not everyone agrees with those tactics. Most tribal elders favor a peaceful, nonconfrontational, spiritual protest.

Paula Antoine, an organizer of the Sicangu Camp for Rosebud reservation members and friends, was a central figure in stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline in South Dakota. She reported at least 120 letters of support from tribes around the world. It is difficult to guess how many were physically represented at the camps.

Gifts and supplies have poured in to the campsites. One tribe sent more than 700 pounds of buffalo meat. Another sent a totem pole. Firewood, batteries, water and bathroom tissue came in.

Tipis, conventional tents and other camping equipment are spread over acres. Cooking smells waft through the camps.

Each day is punctuated with prayers and ceremonies. There are sweat lodges. Calvert Swallow, from the Rosebud reservation, helps organize spiritual activities at the Sioangu Camp. “We pray for seven generations,” he said. Schoolchildren and a teacher from the Lower Brule reservation were there to support the movement.

Some youthful protesters provide security. Dirk Wells, 17, from Lower Brule and his cousin, Wyatt Flury-Wells, 20, from the Crow Creek reservation, were already bone tired at the start of the day Saturday. They had been there for two weeks, inspired to join the cause by Dirk’s father, Bill Wells, who proudly counts a number of chiefs among his ancestors.

Wyatt had gone 26 hours with no sleep. Kirk, in his trademark leather fisherman’s hat, was coming off a 20-hour day. Tasks include efforts at the gates to keep out alcohol, drugs and weapons. (Before the march, gatekeepers reported turning away suspicious visitors.)

Peacekeeping was the highest priority. “Every now and then, things get dicey,” Wyatt said. But, he noted, they had not once had to resort to force to break up a dispute.

As they see it, the bigger fight is for the future. Wyatt imagines a time when he might be a father. He wants the river to be there. “I grew up living next to the river — fishing, swimming, tubing. When I heard this pipeline was coming, I had to take a stand.”

Pipeline officials tout the importance of the pipeline for energy independence. Skeptics wonder how serious politicians and oil companies are about that, especially since a 40-year ban against oil exports was lifted in December.

“This is all about money and greed,” Archambault II said. Archambault II, who was arrested Aug. 12 for disorderly conduct during a protest, is frustrated by the politics of the pipeline. A route north of Bismarck was considered before being sited near Cannonball, just a mile north of his reservation. He said, “If it’s so safe, why don’t they put it in Bismarck?”

Proponents say putting the pipeline 90-feet below the river will ensure safety. Archambault II counters by pointing out hydraulic fracking has caused manmade earthquakes in Oklahoma. If it happens here, he warned, “Who’s going to be impacted — the people downstream.”

He is a strong advocate of renewable energy. As the original caretakers of the land, he said this protest is about preserving the earth for everyone.

It’s not just Native Americans who stand to lose if the pipeline fails. The Missouri River supplies water to numerous districts, including the South Central Rural Water District, based in Linton, N.D. The rural water district is covered by North Dakota’s Source Water Protection Program. Inexplicably, the pipeline crosses into the protection zone. If completed, 360 miles of pipeline will pass through Mountrail, Williams, McKenzie, Dunn, Mercer, Morton and Emmons counties.

Pipeline supporters say the tribes should have contested the pipeline during North Dakota PSC hearings — something Paula Antoine and others did successfully with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline.

She points out tribes are sovereign nations and under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, it is the U.S. government’s obligation to consult tribes regarding traditional Indian lands. Of course, the treaty also guaranteed the Lakota ownership of the Black Hills — until gold was discovered.

Critics who say Big Oil always gets rubber-stamp approval from North Dakota officials argue the PSC should have reached out to tribal officials. Activists have been critical of what they see as an overreaction by Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s declaration of a State of Emergency on Aug. 19. A roadblock on N.D. Highway 1806 between Bismarck and the protest site remains in effect.

Law enforcement officials reported Aug. 22 that someone directed a laser into the eyes of a pilot surveilling the camps, something organizers dispute. “We have had incidents and reports of weapons, of pipe bombs, of some shots fired,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said. Organizers are convinced an announcement for (peace) pipe holders to gather to load their ceremonial pipes was misconstrued.

For government officials, the buffalo in the room is the echo of the 1972 American Indian Movement’s Wounded Knee standoff with the FBI. Although tribal officials say they are committed to a peaceful, prayerful protest, the presence of AIM leader Clyde Bellecourt, now 80, served as a reminder of the continuing conflict between two nations.

The divide between cultures is wider than the Missouri. The narrative on conservative radio and websites is decidedly pro-pipeline. Some support calling out the National Guard. Others point to the oil-rich Fort Berthold reservation as evidence of hypocrisy.

Joseph Marshall III, a pre-eminent Lakota author and scholar from the Rosebud reservation, said traditionalists are driving the pipeline opposition, while progressives favor a more modern mainstream approach. “There’s always that divide,” he said. “There’s always going to be that. The progressives think the traditionalists are stuck in the past.”

Marshall said Manifest Destiny is alive and well in America. “It comes with a sense of impunity, the powers that be can say and do what they want to and with us (natives) because they know no one cares, and they break the law to do that because no one, not even the feds, are going to hold them accountable,” he said. “It’s always been an uphill battle for us.”

For traditionalists, one thing has not changed. They are still fighting to save their land. An old Lakota prophecy warns of a black snake that will bring great sorrow and destruction. Many believe the pipeline is the black snake.

Bill Wells gazes thoughtfully at the sunny sky and the helicopter hovering above. “I had a call from my oldest son,” he said. His son told him, “I had a dream that the river was all black.” It is a premonition Wells does not take lightly. He talks about the many unrecorded atrocities suffered by his predecessors. He feels their energy. “There’s more than you see here,” he said. “There’s a spiritual battle going on.”

At the construction site, where the prairie was scraped bare, the air was filled with celebratory whoops and cheers when the security guards and their dogs retreated. It was not the sound of a conquered people.

There is some unfinished legal business. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not issued a formal written easement to build the pipeline on corps property — the river.

All eyes are on federal Judge James Boasberg, who has delayed a decision on the Standing Rock tribe’s injunction request until Sept. 9. Appeals are already planned. This fight appears far from over.

Addendum:

• The Department of Justice issued a temporary restraining order against the pipeline Monday, saying concerns about the company “engaging or antagonizing” resistors warranted the order.

• A photograph issued Tuesday by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department showed a security guard pushed up against his truck by protesters. At least one of the protesters was attempting to protect the man. The photo appeared to show someone trying to poke the guard with what appeared to be a lathe board. A protester was visible in the bed of the pickup holding a steel fencepost.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Ambush At Standing Rock

It’s hard to articulate what has happened and is still happening to the Native American population.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, his scout, Drew Wrigley, and his alter-ego, Kevin Cramer, are either disconnected from the reality of what is happening at Standing Rock or are simply too uninformed or too cowardly to act in a responsible leadership role.

Philip Strobel is program director of National Environmental Protection Act in the Region 8 Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Ecosystems Protection. In March, he asked for an updating of the draft environmental assessment — that it be revised to assess potential impacts to drinking water and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as well as additional concerns over environmental justice and the emergency response actions in case of oil spills and leaks. Based on the importance of these concerns, he recommended a revised draft.

The Native Americans of Standing Rock prepared a list and filed it. It showed where graves, sacred sites and artifacts were located on the land in question.

On Saturday (Sept. 3), a group of men, women and children walked on foot to the original protest site. And guess what!

The Dakota Access Pipeline people had seen their list of sacred sites … and sent out a work crew, with no notice to anyone and on a holiday weekend, to bulldoze the earth. Their crew destroyed the graves and sacred sites that had been identified in the tribe’s report to create the path for the pipe to be laid right across them!

The tribe had no notice this was going to happen or that, in fact, the destruction was under way. When they came upon the scene, with trucks and bulldozers in motion, you can imagine their hurt, anger and outrage at what was happening to their sacred lands.

You can bet the farm they walked up to the fence — over, under and around it — to protest the destruction. Men, women and children demanded that they stop.

What did the agents of the Three Mouseketeers (Dalrymple, Wrigley and Cramer) do? I saw the video shot by witnesses: What they did was mace or pepper spray the Natives and bring out attack dogs without warning. The dogs bit everything in sight (including their handlers). One bit a horse and was rewarded with a kick to its body that sent said dog to the vet hospital.

The handlers couldn’t control those dogs. Unlike well-trained police with their equally trained K-9s, these boneheads created a panic with their uncontrolled shepherds and pit bulls. Unlike other breeds, when a pit bull bites, it doesn’t release, which is why you don’t see law enforcement use them.

In the hands of rogue, untrained security people, these animals are weapons. The security staff were not authorized to use weapons. If I’d scan the laws carefully, I think I could come up with authority to charge them.

There are legal cases across this country where dogs have been held to be deadly weapons and the owners held responsible. Police dogs are an exception; otherwise, I’ve seen no authority that would allow these rent-a-cops to turn their animals loose on the Native Americans.

Since North Dakota’s cowardly mainstream media, including the state’s largest newspaper, have not reported on these events in any meaningful way, I have searched national newspapers, TV media, the Native American news outlets and witnesses who were there Saturday to obtain the information we need to understand.

Once again, I note, the governor, lieutenant governor and our lone U.S. congressman have done nothing but throw more gasoline on the flames of bigotry and injustice. In statements and interviews, they are calling the protectors “lawbreakers, thugs and criminals,” turning a blind eye (or one that’s simply uninformed) to the plight the tribes are in.

The courts will rule on some parts of this standoff this week. In the meantime, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed an emergency motion Sunday (Sept. 4) to block further construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The oil companies know exactly what they are doing. They’ve taken a page out of the Trump “Bully’s Playbook” and are trying to run roughshod over our Original Americans. The state’s three top government individuals to whom I’ve referred, being supporters of the world’s most dangerous man, are happy to let them do it.

Word went out during the protest that a government helicopter was in the air. If that’s correct, why wasn’t local law enforcement called in to maintain the peace and corral the nut jobs with the vicious dogs? On the other hand, if local law enforcement didn’t know what the oil company was doing, perhaps they should bring in someone with the brains god gave a goat to monitor the situation — and to serve and protect “everyone”?

Of course, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven was also an outspoken supporter of TransCanada and its now-failed Keystone XL pipeline, as well as this comparable line by Energy Transfer Partners of Texas. I suppose the fact that he has a personal investment in 68 different oil-producing wells under the auspices of Mainstream Investors LLC has something to do with it.

According to his most recent congressional personal financial disclosure form — one-fourth of them within 18 miles of the terminal of the Dakota Access Pipeline near Watford City.

Do you suppose that might influence his position? (Go ahead — at this point, either choke or gasp, as you wish.)

Hoeven is also a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. It is supposed to ensure tribal concerns are heard and adequately addressed. Sen. Hoeven’s representative says he makes his decisions based solely on merit! Native lands vs. Big Oil? Hmm, it would appear that he should get off Indian Affairs and go directly to the Committee on Shills for the Oil Industry.

This is all about Standing Rock and Native American issues:  protecting their rights, their traditions, their religious beliefs from encroachment and — in far too many cases — destruction of their way of life.

Ask yourself: What would you do if it were your home, farmstead, the burial site of your ancestors’ remains, your sacred relics, your only water supply, and everything you deemed as essential to your life … and a foreign power came in to destroy it?

Now ask yourself what you would do if you were Native American. That very scenario exists.

The Native Americans have had much more patience than I would, considering what they’ve had to endure and put up with. The fact that Indian Nations from all across this country are backing our North Dakota and South Dakota tribes ought to send a message to our leaders (if, in fact, you can find any here) that they must put the brakes on this pipeline until a route can be found to avoid Native lands.

I am so proud of the self-control the tribes have maintained while these political ambushes continue. The God I honor, and the Spirits and God they honor, too, know their cause is right. The non-natives pushing this misguided plan would do well to consult their own God, instead of their bank accounts. Then this patriotic action by the Water Protectors will succeed. Amen.

 

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Lack Of Legislative Ethics Code Leaves Integrity In Question

Once upon a time, there was a legislator who had to report campaign donations by amount and by donor … one who had to disclose how his funds were spent … one who would explain why a donor was not creating a conflict of interest.

Once upon a time, this same legislator was bound by a code of ethics. It had enforcement provisions to be followed if there was a violation.

Once upon a time, there was a legislator who was not in the state that registered a grade of “F” in a state integrity investigation, the same state that was ranked 43 out of all states by the Integrity Investigation.

Surprise! That legislator could not have been from North Dakota. Each and every point I’ve cited is an issue in North Dakota.

I am amazed that the legislative leaders in North Dakota’s majority party don’t believe there should be enforceable accountability. Why? Because (in my words) our leaders are incapable of doing anything wrong.

My state, North Dakota, is one of the few without proper accountability. That must change.

Consider the following: Donald J. Trump has insulted women, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos and war heroes like his own party’s Sen. John McCain.

He has insulted Gold Star Families, who have sacrificed a family member in the military for love of country. He has bragged that he was womanizing during the Vietnam conflict — he claims that was his “combat experience.” He has insisted that his high school and college military training is the equivalent of actual military service. Oh, and right now, he says he knows more about ISIS than our military generals do.

He has not rejected hate groups like the KKK and its leader David Duke. Duke is now running for office again himself, based on the similarity between Trump’s goals and his own.

Trump has bankrupted many companies because he’s “good at manipulating credit,” never considering the enormous effect his self-centered business decisions have on his former employees.

He is the target right now of hundreds of business lawsuits … not to mention his theft from students in his notorious Trump University scheme.

And that list doesn’t even come close to the total number offensive things this man has done. Lord, he’s against immigration … even though, without, it he wouldn’t have had two of his three wives.

I know, I know. It must make no difference … because I’m from North Dakota, the state that doesn’t (snicker, snicker) need ethics standards or enforcement. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, governor-wannabe Doug Burgum and Congressman Kevin Cramer (who, I hope, is soon to be unseated by Chase Iron Eyes) all support Trump.

Perhaps mental evaluations should be required as a prerequisite to running for elected office.

Marvin Nelson, the Democratic candidate for governor, definitely does not support Trump. It’s sad that people seem to vote only based on the “R” or “D” before a candidate’s name. I’d propose adding another letter to the ballot: “Q” for qualified. That might get rid of quite a few wannabes.

I believe Nelson’s stand opposing Trump would be just as it is now even if Trump somehow was a Democrat. That’s because Marvin stands for what is good for this country. He’s smart enough to know if you have an uninformed racial bigot for a candidate, out of respect for your constituents, you don’t support him.

Marvin is qualified, is in this race for the people, not the moneyed interests and is the only candidate for governor — in my opinion — who’d earn the “Q” designation.

I have to admit that nothing Cramer does surprises me. After all, he’s one of Trump’s advisers and wants to be in his cabinet. (Any cabinet Trump created would meet in Trump Tower, not the lowly White House … assuming the creditors he’s screwed don’t foreclose on his tower first).

When Doug Burgum said he’d support Trump, I stopped breathing for a moment. I truly thought that, while he was a political novice, he had convictions and would want to lead by example. Instead, once he got the nomination, he joined the Good Old Boys Club. That must have hurt Wayne Stenehjem, who I hope doesn’t say one good word about Herr Trump so I can continue to respect him. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Infusion Of Common Sense Would Raise GOP’s Chances This Year

It’s time for the GOP, both nationally and in North Dakota, to invest in some funding and common sense so that they can get their elevator out of the basement in a 10-story building.

Der Fuhrer Trump once again showed his detachment from common sense when he released the names and photos of his nine financial advisers. All of them are white men, including three named Steve. No minority inclusion. No females. Wow, isn’t that the way to open the party to everyone! Isn’t that the way to infuse confidence in both women and minorities that they count!

At this point, I can’t figure out who’s dumber — the people who nominated Trump; the people who voted for Trump; or, last but not least, the people who advise him.

If you saw the movie “RoboCop,” you’ll recall his (or its) deep, authoritative voice. Now, listen to Donny Trump’s endorsement of Paul Ryan, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. If you didn’t see that news story, you must find it on Facebook or the national news. Doesn’t he remind you of that RoboCop?

You can tell when Trump is speaking off the cuff because of all the stupid things he says and then has to walk back. But for these unwilling recommendations, he looked straight into the camera and read his “endorsements” — if you can call them that —  like a cadaver wired with sound. The words coming out of his mouth did not match the look on his face. You could see he was choking on the script, which for once he actually stuck to.

The problem with this candidate is that having nominated him, the GOP has demonstrated it thinks the electorate is dumber than a box of rocks. How could the GOP have thought that, in just a few weeks, it could potty train a man who has used people like toilet paper his entire life?

Wow, his daughters say he’s wonderful to work with. What work? His sons call him a great man who even taught them the value of hard work (and how to kill big game animals).

This man says he wants to make America great and put our people back to work — while he has his shirts made in one country, his ties made in another country and his hats in a third country. God only knows who makes his underwear.

Without the mental filtering of a 3-year0-old, he volunteered that he gave the people in those countries an income that they wouldn’t have at all without him. Translation: Cheap overseas labor overseas “trumps” the decent wages he’d have to pay in this country. For Trump, that is good economics. For our country, it stinks.

When the top men and women in our national security agencies announce that Hillary Clinton is qualified to be commander in chief, but Donald Trump is not, the American public should pay close attention.

Yet the media continue to play up the same old propaganda about Bad Hillary — stories that have no real facts. Accusations do not count. The professionals who have worked with her, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, commend her for her work ethic, honesty and ability to get the job done — the job, that is, of protecting America, not the United States of Trump.

I sincerely have looked for a positive thing to say about Trump. Quite honestly, he fails at every level.

He still insults Sen. McCain for being captured as a prisoner of war. He still says our military is in shambles. And don’t forget, he insisted he saw a planeload of money being unloaded in Iran — until he didn’t see it. He still demeans women. I could go on and on. The bottom line is the man is incapable of admitting he said or did something wrong.

Remember his admiration for Saddam Hussein and his worship of Russia’s Putin?

Trump’s ego is so large, and his ability to think outside of his comfort zone so small, that he doesn’t realize what our foreign relations experts are saying.

It has been reported that Putin is playing Trump like a fiddle. He knows from his own KGB training that if you say nice things about the Donald, he will respond in kind. Same with NATO; Trump wants to make a deal to honor our commitments. The man doesn’t know that when you have a commitment, you honor it … and it’s not just another “deal.”

 * * *

Believe it or not, some claim that North Dakota has a Republican, Democratic and two other parties. Don’t tell that to Al Carlson and Jack Dalrymple. They know there’s only one.

A special session is called, but the Democrats aren’t allowed in the planning room. The majority presents the plan as it’s written and vote, of course, bypassing the Dem minority altogether. Not only were the Democrats and their own proposals ignored, but the Trump-supporting clones followed the big man’s lead and cut funding to those who can afford it the least.

Bill Guy, George Sinner and Art Link were governors of, by and for the people. You can bet your stock in the air in my backyard that in their day, a lot more thought would have been given to the budget, before and after that special session.

A 10-year-old could have sat down and ordered that across-the-board cut in every department. On the other hand, a thinking person — one who might not be independently wealthy — just might say, “I want all departments to show where cuts can be made.” Certain departments would not be available for cuts and would, in fact, scream for essential increases.

Health care, in particular, took a slamming in the budget passed by the special session. The withholding of promised and essential funds for Robinson Recovery in Fargo is absolutely unconscionable.

Our single-voice Legislature bragged about its wise investments all the while it spent faster than the income it relied upon. When the jig was up, instead of addressing the issues, it actually slammed the Democrats for showboating.

It appears the North Dakota GOP’s elevator not only doesn’t go up to the top; it needs some work right where it is, stuck in the basement. In no sense am I trying to be humorous here. What recently happened in Bismarck does not pass the smell test.

* * *

Speaking of smell: A certain columnist and blogger for The Forum apparently is obsessed with Joel Heitkamp of KFGO Radio and his sister, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Joel has the No. 1 talk show in the state. Heidi is North Dakota’s only thinking senator. When the two combine their talents on Joel’s morning his talk show, it is the best in information and in entertainment.

I very much like and supPORT both of them. I hope that writer can manage to do a balancing act and see if he can’t just find something nice to say about each of them.

No matter how you cut it, she is our senator, and he is No. 1.

That’s a fact, not a paid commercial. I wish it was. I could use the income. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Republican Candidates Dump Credibility For Trump

Criminal charges have been filed against three Michigan State and local officials after an investigation disclosed there were dangerous lead levels in Flint’s drinking water, which fueled public outrage. It also resulted in a visit by the president of the United States, who promised federal assistance, in no small part due to the inaction and cover-up by local politicians.

The sad thing is that the lead in the water affects all age groups, but particularly the young. Their whole lives are now uncertain due to the lead. This is no joke; it is to be taken seriously … but one has to wonder if some of that water found its way into the supply provided to Doug Burgum, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven, N.D. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and, of course, the out-in-right-field Rep. Kevin Cramer.

Early on, I thought Burgum would be a new fresh face for North Dakota, free from the usual baggage that can hound a candidate. Then his adviser(s) came out swinging with nasty commercials against Stenehjem, who swung right back with nasties of his own.

Until the entire Republican field plus Burgum announced their support for Donald Trump, I thought we’d have an interesting and uplifting race for both the North Dakota governorship and for the presidency.

But no. What the Republican leaders have done is to absolutely establish that theirs is a closed system. Instead of independent thinking, they fall all over themselves like the legend of lemmings on route to the sea, supporting “their party candidate.”

It makes no difference that Trump is the most divisive candidate ever to run for the presidency … that he degrades women … degrades Mexicans and wants to build a wall to keep them out … degrades and proposes banning Muslims … has had multiple marriages and reportedly even more affairs … and is a loud-mouthed, pontificating liar.

PolitiFact, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning website, has investigated and declared Trump’s following statements false:

1. That he does better with women voters than Clinton. In fact, he has the lowest approval by women of any candidate since statistics have been maintained.

2. That the father of former candidate Ted Cruz was with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the murder of JFK, implying he was involved. Trump insisted there was a media cover-up. The statement is completely false with no supporting evidence.

3.  That Isis is making millions of dollars selling Libyan oil … absolutely false.

4.  His claim he was totally against the war in Iraq and claimed it would destabilize the Middle East was a total fabrication on his part.

5. Claimed that when President Obama made his Cuban visit he was not met by any leaders and this was without precedent for Air Force One. He forgot about President Nixon’s visit to China, where he was met by lower-level officials, only to meet the leaders later on the same day.

6. That he polled better than Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in his quest for the presidency. Another false statement.

Enough of the true or false statements of the Donald. How about just refreshing your memories of his outrageous, sexist and childish comments such as:

1. Bragging about the relationship of the size of his hands to the size of his penis.

2. Claiming that blood was coming out of Fox Newswoman Megan Kelly’s eyes as well as “other parts,” a not-so-veiled reference to her vagina.

3. He would bring back waterboarding as a form of torture.

4. He would not hesitate to nuke European countries.

5. He’d pull out of NATO and let the other members either pay for our support and or develop their own nuclear weapons.

6. He would not hesitate to kill the families of terrorists, men, women and children.

7. He wouldn’t hesitate to fire-bomb (cluster bomb) whole cities.

Of course, he’s told Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the most powerful single Republican in Congress, that he’d better get on board with his programs. Couple that statement with Trump’s pompous bragging that he’s absolutely the best at every single thing he’s involved in, and you have a man so full of himself that he’s too dangerous to have in the White House … even as a janitor. (I don’t mean to demean the honorable work of janitors).

This is the type of book your North Dakota leaders, except for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, either have endorsed or are supporting.

By now, you are thinking, “Tom, this is old news. What the hell is your point?”

My point is this: Take a close look at Marvin Nelson, Democratic candidate for North Dakota’s governor.

To say that the Democratic Party has not been much of a factor recently in the politics of North Dakota would be an understatement.

There are some very good Democrats, true. But their numbers are so minimal as to render them ineffective.

My good friend, Jack Zaleski, expressed exactly this in his column last Sunday. What I have learned from him and on candidate Nelson’s website is that this man is qualified, very experienced and has all of the qualifications one would expect …

… except for two things: One, he’s a Democrat, and two, he would never support a person like Donald Trump under any circumstances. In an intelligent world, No. 2 alone more than offsets No.1.

I’ve listened to some of Nelson’s recent radio interviews. This is a man who comes across as not only articulate, but as a charming, knowledgeable candidate. He sounds very much like a man you could sit down and talk to ― someone who’d actually listen to you and weigh your concerns.

The more I hear about Nelson, the more I like him. He is a true son of North Dakota. He’d certainly never take office lugging behind him the ugly baggage that a Donald Trump would bring. That baggage does not reflect well upon either of the other gubernatorial candidates. Amen.