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Dakota Access Likely to Get Built, But It's Still Unclear When

Based on a supportive memo from the Trump administration last month, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is expected to receive an easement from the U.S. Corps of Engineers (USACE) needed to complete the $3.8 billion, 1,200-mile oil transportation project.

How and when that will happen is less certain.

Here is what is known: North Dakota's congressional delegation thinks it is a done deal and has said so publicly, but the USACE as of Wednesday had not taken any definite action to grant the easement.

In the meantime, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other on-site protesters have not given up their demand that the nearly completed project be stopped, and U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) indicated Tuesday that more federal law enforcement personnel are needed in south-central North Dakota, where the protesters' encampment is still active, albeit with a smaller total number of "water protectors," as they describe themselves.

It has been estimated that state and local law enforcement agencies have spent more than $22 million to monitor the protests over the last four months.

An estimated 595 protesters had been arrested as of Wednesday, according to supporters of DAPL, the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN). Some 94% of the protesters arrested were from other states.

On Wednesday, protesters in San Francisco went to the downtown headquarters of Wells Fargo Bank, delivering a petition with 500,000 signatures of people opposed to the project and demanding the bank pull back its financing for the oil pipeline. The protesters said they were part of a "global movement" opposed to new fossil fuel projects.

A spokesperson for the Standing Rock Sioux said the protesters are not reassured by the USACE's recent clarification that it hasn't issued an easement yet. "Speeding up the review of this toxic pipeline is not possible -- and the Trump administration has so far taken no steps to engage or consult indigenous people or tribes on this project despite his aggressive directives to force this project through," the spokesperson said.

Legal analysts have pointed out that Trump's action on DAPL and Keystone XL, two entirely separate projects, carefully used presidential "memoranda," as opposed to "executive orders." That is supposedly because different federal agencies have authority over the two projects, according to Scott Marrs, a regional managing partner in the Akerman law firm's Texas offices.

The Acting Secretary of the Army articulated the presidential memo's intent in directing the assistant secretary for Army Civil Works "to take all actions necessary and appropriate to fully and unequivocally comply with the specific directives" in the Trump memorandum. Subsequently, USACE clarified that the assistant secretary ultimately will decide on the easement "once a full review and analysis is completed."

Presumably, decision-makers would want to plan their actions to avoid a repeat of the Waco, TX debacle in 1993 when 76 people died in a siege, gun battle and fire that resulted when federal and state law enforcement and the U.S. military forcibly shut down a religious community, the Branch Davidians.

*Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect job title for Scott Marrs, who is in fact regional managing partner in the Akerman law firm's Texas offices. NGI regrets the error. 

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