BISMARCK — Special education teachers who travel to a school near the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are scared to drive in the area after getting harassed, the Burleigh County Special Education Unit wrote in a letter to state officials.
Delays while staff attempt to travel to and from the Little Heart School in St. Anthony are causing students to miss federally mandated special education services, said Barry Chathams, director of the unit, in a letter to Superintendent of Schools Kirsten Baesler.
A speech pathologist, learning disability teacher and special education assistant have been stopped several times while traveling to and from the school, which has been on lockdown when protesters attempted to block pipeline construction in the area of Morton County.
“Our staff, as well as contracted physical and occupational therapy professionals, are scared to travel to St. Anthony,” Chathams wrote.
He cited examples including a staff member who thought a pickup was going to drive into her car. Chathams said the unit is asking employees to return to the office if they are harassed and asked the Department of Public Instruction to provide clarification.
Cody Hall, a spokesman for the Red Warrior Camp, said there may be detours at times caused by the self-described water protectors but they are not seeking to stop people from traveling through the area.
“We know that people have to go from point A to point B and we’re not blocking roads and we’re not preventing people from going to their homes or their jobs,” Hall said.
Meanwhile, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture has opened a hotline for farmers and ranchers affected by Dakota Access protests.
Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said farmers and ranchers near the protest area who
urgently need help finishing seasonal work before winter should call the Farm/Ranch Emergency Assistance Hotline at (701) 425-8454. Department of Agriculture employees will answer the free hotline from 8 to 5 p.m. weekdays, and callers can leave messages on evenings or weekends.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said last week that deputies have been assigned
to stay in regular contact with farmers and ranchers, citing reports of threats, intimidation and trespassing by protesters.
Hall disputed the reports and said many farmers and ranchers have thanked members of the protest camp for standing up to the oil industry.
“We’ve had a huge, huge support from farmers and ranchers around that area,” Hall said. “To say that we’re unruly of some sort is not true.”
Corps of Engineers responds
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filed an answer this week to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit filed in July, denying that it violated any federal laws when it issued permits for a four-state pipeline that crosses the Missouri River less than a mile north of the reservation.
In the court filing, the Corps denied the tribe’s claims that the agency violated the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Corps also said the agency followed procedures for consulting with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. In addition, the agency said the tribe did not identify any cultural resources within the permit area of any water crossing that is under Corps jurisdiction.
The tribe filed the lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., after the Corps issued a permit for crossing Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River. The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline will carry 450,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken to Illinois.
In a Sept. 9 statement, the Corps said it will not authorize pipeline construction bordering or under Lake Oahe until the agency can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws.
The Corps also asked Dakota Access to voluntarily pause construction within 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahe.
Dakota Access said in a statement this week the company looks forward to resuming pipeline construction on private land near Lake Oahe.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement Wednesday he’s not surprised that Dakota Access plans to ignore the federal agencies’ request to halt construction in that area and called on President Obama to take action.
“President Obama has the power to change the fate of the water users who stand to lose clean water,” Archambault said. “Our lives are at risk and the places we hold sacred are at risk. Millions have stood with us in opposition to this pipeline and he must heed their call.”
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, estimated Wednesday there continue to be about 1,500 people camping in protest of the pipeline.
“Given Dakota Access Pipeline’s aggressive moves lately to really push through with construction, the numbers might rise again depending on what happens,” Goldtooth said.