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Dakota Access on Mind of New North Dakota Governor

Fallout from the Dakota Access oil pipeline battle and "reinventing" state government are high on the priority list of new North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Burgum Tuesday during a speech characterized the state's revenue challenges tied to more than two years of depressed oil/natural gas commodity prices as "an opportunity to reinvent state government and embrace technology to hold down costs." He said the stalled 1,200-mile, $3.8 billion Dakota Access is providing a "fresh start" for the state's strained relations with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has opposed the four-state project.

"Our goal is to understand each tribe's individual issues and circumstances so that we may move forward together toward greater mutual respect, harmony and prosperity," the Republican governor said. "Peaceful protest is a protected right of all Americans."

Burgum urged the remaining pipeline protesters to abandon the encampment site near the proposed crossing under the Missouri River.

"The unauthorized camp sits in a floodplain on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) land at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers," Burgum said, adding that vacating and cleaning up the site is going to be "costly and time-consuming."

"The cleanup will require coordination from tribal, county, state and federal agencies," said Burgum, noting that a complete job will be required by March 1 to avoid endangering the lives of protesters and first responders.

The new governor said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault has asked the remaining protesters to leave, and the state "unequivocally" supports his request. He added that "maintaining the rule of law" is still priority for the state, and protesters must respect private property rights.

Separately, on Thursday the USACE kept oil/gas pipeline projects in the federal agency's five-year renewal of the Nationwide Permit (NWP) program that is effective March 18. According to an analysis by ClearView Energy Partners LLC, the new NWP will become effective when published in the Federal Register, and that should happen before the presidential inauguration Jan. 20.

A spokesperson for the Dakota Access pipeline sponsors said late Wednesday that if the USACE under the Trump administration approves the long-stalled water crossing, the construction work for finishing the pipeline can be completed in 90 days, so a second quarter start up for the pipeline would be possible under that scenario.

In addressing a joint session of the state legislature, Burgum said the private sector has been making cutbacks in the face of low commodity prices, and "we must do the same by relentlessly pursuing new and better ways of delivering services."

"Powerful technological forces are fueling an underlying change in our economy and will challenge all of our existing approaches, systems and institutions," said Burgum, noting he thinks the state will have to "dig deeper" going beyond the $1.2 billion in 2017-19 biennium general fund spending reductions proposed by the outgoing governor, Jack Dalrymple.

Burgum said he has challenged his cabinet members to "spend less time defending institutions and more time reinventing them." And they have responded, he said.

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