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July 18, 2019

Army Corps of Engineers totally abdicated its legal responsibilities, says Stenehjem

Media contact: Liz Brocker (701) 328-2213

BISMARCK, ND – Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is today filing a lawsuit in federal court in Bismarck, seeking to hold the federal government accountable for $38 million in costs expended by the State of North Dakota related to unlawful conduct that occurred during the protests over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

North Dakota’s claim is brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and asserts that the state incurred $38 million in law enforcement, emergency response, and other costs as a result of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to enforce the law, including its own regulations, and to protect public safety, health and the environment during massive protests over the DAPL’s construction.

For nearly eight months beginning in August 2016, the federal government allowed trespassers to establish and live in illegal, unsafe and unsanitary camps on Federal lands from which certain criminal elements staged prolonged, often combative and violent unlawful activities on federal, state, and private lands in Morton County, North Dakota and in Mandan and Bismarck.

Stenehjem said, “those organized protests, launched from large makeshift encampments illegally located on federal lands, involved frequent outbreaks of dangerous, unsanitary, and sometimes life-threatening activities.”

As a result of the Corps’ failure to enforce the law on land under its control, North Dakota was forced to provide a sustained, large-scale public safety response to protect public safety and health, including that of the protesters, as well as protect the environment and property. The State response involved thousands of days of law enforcement and first responder time, and the use of considerable amounts of equipment. 

Stenehjem said “this cost North Dakota $38 million, which the State maintains the federal government should reimburse because the Corps’ failures to do its duty directly caused the state to incur these costs.”

“From the beginning, the US Army Corps of Engineers has completely failed and refused to respond in any meaningful way to the requests of North Dakota to act, including its failure to even respond to our demand for payment under the Federal Tort Claims Act. But now the Corps will have no choice but to appear in a court of law and attempt to defend its abdication of its responsibilities,” Stenehjem continued.

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