The protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota could reach their climax following the Army Corps of Engineers' order for the hundreds gathered at the Oceti Sakowin camp to evacuate.
The deadline for the protesters to vacate the camp is set for Feb. 22, issued under a court order reflecting concerns that spring flooding from the nearby Missouri River could endanger their lives. If the protesters do not evacuate, they could face arrest by local police.
For months, Lakota tribes and activists have protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion project by Energy Transfer Partners to transfer crude oil through four states, beginning in North Dakota and ending in Illinois.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has accused the project of defiling culturally sacred grounds and posing a hazard to the area's drinking water. In December 2016, former President Barack Obama ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to require ETP to provide environmental impact statements on any alternative routes that could accommodate the Standing Rock Sioux, The Washington Post reports.
On Jan. 24, President Donald Trump signed an executive action ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to give ETP a final easement on construction, nullifying the need for environmental impact statements. On Feb. 13, a federal judge denied a request from two Lakota tribes to place a restraining order on the pipeline's construction, with another hearing set for Feb. 27.
Now the hundreds of remaining protesters could face impending arrest if they do not evacuate, with state authorities and the Army Corps of Engineers asserting that their safety will be imperiled if seasonal floods hit their camp. The protesters have signaled little desire to comply.
"If we don't stand now, when will we?" protester Tiffanie Pieper of San Diego told Fox News.
One anonymous 90-year-old woman at the campsite asserted that safety is not her concern.
"They don't understand people are willing to die here," she told The Intercept. "They don't understand we will not back down."
Bryce Peppard of Oregon said that his fellow protesters will not submit easily to arrest but will remain peaceful when authorities arrive at the camp.
"We'll make it difficult for them to handcuff us, but there will be no forceful opposition," Peppard said.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, who issued an emergency evacuation order for the camp on Feb. 15, hopes that arrests will not have to be necessary.
"The ideal situation is zero arrests are made because everybody figures out that it's not a place where you want to be when the flood starts to happen," Burgum said.