Citing unusually high temperatures and the need to step up the pace of cleanup, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum on Wednesday February 15 issued an evacuation order effective immediately for water protectors in the Oceti Sakowin and parts of Sacred Stone camps. This moves up by a week the original February 22 deadline for vacating in advance of spring flooding.
“It relates to the unseasonably warm weather and the potential for flooding that’s coming that we want to reiterate that evacuation order, that people should be aware of the threat that’s coming and be moving out of the flood area,” Burgum told reporters at a Wednesday evening press conference.
Cleanup has been happening, he said, but with five to six months of debris and the warming temperatures, the pace needs to be stepped up. Eighty-two dumpsters have been taken from the camps, Burgum said, but that is only 20 percent of what needs to be cleaned up. At the current pace, it won’t be done in time to avoid contaminating the water when the floods come. And the freezing water, he said, would be dangerous to anyone remaining in the flood plain.
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“If we thought we had two to three more weeks, that might have been the right timetable,” he said. But he added that removing the physical garbage was the “easy part” and that returning the land to the shape it was in before the camps filled up with water protectors last August will take some time as well. Potential water contamination was also an issue, he said.
“We also as we’ve said before is, everyone in North Dakota is on the clean water team. We all want clean water, and we don’t want to have the irony of a protest that began around protecting water to actually be right now in the Missouri River system—up and down the Missouri River system, one of the biggest environmental threats to the Missouri River right now is the camp itself.”
Burgum said that at this point there are fewer than 200 water protectors left at the camps—during the height in November and December, the number had swelled as high as 14,000—and urged those who remained to take any personal and ceremonial items. He acknowledged that there may be people at camp who don’t have a place to go, and said state and local authorities would work with them to help them relocate.
He said that communication with the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes had been smooth, and that the cleanup was a joint effort between federal contractors with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, contractors hired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and state and county personnel. Asked about potential police presence or use of force, Burgum said that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had “added more staff” and that more were coming, but that the goal was to maintain public safety.
“But it’d be nice if we didn’t need more law enforcement,” he said, in the hope that water protectors would cooperate with the cleanup efforts as an environmental issue, and would leave peaceably, in deference to the climate conditions.