North Dakota to DOJ—-Pay us for what the Corps of Engineers failed to do over pipeline protests

The state of North Dakota is asking to be reimbursed $38 million from the federal government over law enforcement efforts at the protests two years ago of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed the claim, saying the law enforcement costs came because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to enforce the law.

The claim alleges that the corps allowed people to camp illegally on federal land where they organized protest activities that disrupted nearby communities.

“The corps is responsible for maintaining order and safety on lands that it manages,” Stenehjem said in a recent interview.

An estimated 1,400 law enforcement officers and 300 other personnel from 11 states and 23 state agencies responded to the protests, according to the claim. The state alleges the protests that began in August 2016 and continued through February 2017 were aggravated by the “negligent and unlawful conduct by the corps.”

The claim was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The federal government has six months to respond to the state’s claim. If it is not paid or settled, North Dakota can file a lawsuit to recover its damages in federal court.

Stenehjem said he hopes the corps will propose a settlement.

A spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers said the agency doesn’t comment on litigation.

The total amount spent on protests was slightly more than $38 million, according to the state’s claim. State lawmakers had approved $43 million in borrowing authority from the Bank of North Dakota to cover protest-related costs. Legislators also directed the attorney general to pursue all “reasonable and available options” to recoup costs and expenses incurred by the state as a result of the protests.

In August 2017, the Department of Justice awarded $10 million to help reimburse North Dakota for protest costs. In September 2017, Gov. Doug Burgum’s office announced that Dakota Access Pipeline LLC had donated $15 million to the state to help pay for the pipeline protest response.

He said the Dakota Access donation does not affect the federal government’s obligation.

“The $15 million was a gift to the people of North Dakota. It was not intended to offset the obligation of the corps, which is responsible for the expenses incurred by the taxpayers of this state,” Stenehjem said.

The Department of Justice declined to comment .