JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Let’s Get Out Before The Weather Gets Bad

What I can read into the Corps of Engineers’ announcement Monday on the Dakota Access Pipeline is that the project will not move forward as long as Barack Obama is Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army. Well, good for him.

Now then, it might be time for Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault II to send the Water Protectors/Protesters home. Today. And tomorrow. Because it’s going to be winter Thursday, and a nylon tent is not adequate protection from the kind of weather we’re likely going to experience this weekend.

The Water Protectors/Protesters have done their job. Their voices have been heard at the highest level in the country, the Oval Office. The president has responded. There will be no drilling under Lake Oahe until, or unless, he is sure that all the concerns of the people of Standing Rock have been addressed. That’s not likely to happen in the next two months and five days.

Last week, the Corps asked Dakota Access to stop working on the project in the vicinity of the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Reservation. The company sent back an in-your-face response that it would stop only if the Corps would provide them a date they could go back to work and finish the project. An ultimatum.

That was not a smart move. It’s a bad idea to piss off the people who hold the permit in their hands. That’s what the company did. Monday’s announcement was the result.

To be sure, the company is basking in the glow of Donald Trump’s election last week. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren dumped a big check into Donald Trump’s campaign — I’ve seen reports that it was more than $100,000 —and Trump is reportedly a million-dollar stockholder in the company.  And both Warren and Congressman Kevin Cramer are strutting around bragging that the pipeline will get built as soon as the new president takes office.

If it’s true that Trump has a financial interest in the company, that could be problematic for the project. If the Corps of Engineers is still considering whether to let the project move forward when Trump takes office Jan. 20, the new president can’t just jump in there and tell the Corps to get moving. Presidents can do a lot of things to benefit their friends, but they can’t do things that benefit themselves personally. That would be a conflict of interest. Presidents could go to the pokey for that.

Meanwhile, our first major winter storm approaches. I think it would be OK if the folks down on the Cannonball pulled up stakes. There’s not much more to accomplish there, and we could all use a breather. To say the camp has accomplished its purpose would be an understatement. It’s drawn worldwide attention, and today, there will be worldwide sympathy protests, more than 100, from what I hear. After Monday’s announcement, there should be celebrations.

And also today, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will join them. That’s big timber. Last week, rock icon Neil Young and his current squeeze, Daryl Hannah, snuck in and out of the camp unnoticed by the local media. Not sure what he was doing there, but there’s some speculation he might have been cutting a track for his new album. Next week, music legends Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne will hold a benefit concert at Prairie Knights Casino. There might still be tickets left. You can check by calling (800) 585-3737 or at clicking on the ticket website, here.

Now I’m not suggesting the protest is over. I think it should continue but at a different venue. There’s a big deal going on in Washington on Jan. 20. I’d like to see the fundraising continue and the money be used to hire hundreds of buses to transport Water Protectors/Protesters to Washington for Trump’s inauguration. I’d like to see them there in full regalia.

There will probably be as many people watching TV that day as watched the first Clinton-Trump debate. If you want to make the people of America — and the world — aware of your cause, you take it to where the TV cameras are and the TV audience is watching.

I’d like to see thousands of them on the streets of our nation’s Capitol on Inauguration Day, to send a clear message to Donald Trump that this pipeline under Lake Oahe, on the border of the Standing Rock Reservation, is unacceptable. Don’t even think about it, Mr. President.

President Obama said as much last week when he urged the Corps to seek an alternate route. And the Corps responded Monday, saying it is deciding whether to grant an easement for the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe “at the proposed location.” If there’s going to be anything forthcoming from the Corps in the way of resolution in the next couple of months, it might be that it suggests a new crossing location.

If not, if Obama holds fast, then I say move the protest to Trump’s back yard. The weather is pretty nice in Washington in late January — generally kind of like it has been here in North Dakota the last few days, suitable for camping. And there’s all that public land in Washington — we own much of the city — so there’s lots of places to set up a new camp.

So I’m suggesting Chairman Archambault declare victory, at least temporarily, and send the folks camped out at Cannonball home this week. Get out before the weather gets bad. After the storm, when the winds die down, I bet we can find a whole bunch of people at Standing Rock and up here in Bismarck to go out and help clean up the site. I’m in. I can think of a dozen friends (and a couple of step kids — are you listening Michael and Lavalla?) of mine who will join me. And a whole lot more.

ASIDE: There was a strange letter to the editor in the Bismarck Tribune last week, from  a bald-headed Army general named Scott A. Spellmon, who identified himself as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division. In stark contrast to the statement the Department of the Army issued Monday, Spellmon, who I assume is in the Omaha (Neb.) District office, went on and on about how the Corps has consulted the tribes at every step of the way through “hundreds of engagements with tribal leaders and staff to inform our decision-making process” and has analyzed the Oahe crossing in a “1,261 page Environmental Assessment.”

Then he appears to lay all the blame for the delays in the project on his superiors and President Obama, writing  “Our current role at the corps, division and district is to address any questions from our senior leaders so that the best possible decisions can be made.”

You can read the whole letter here, if you want. There’s lots more defense of all the efforts made at the local level. I can’t imagine the people in Washington like reading that, in light of Monday’s announcement that “The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship and the statute governing easements through government property.”

Spellmon’s letter reads like he’s saying, “Hey, North Dakota, don’t blame us, blame those politicians in Washington.” Who just happen to be his superior officers. I wonder if General Spellmon is Lieutenant Spellmon today, or maybe even Private First Class Spellmon.

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