An activist fights the wind while walking along Flag Road in Oceti Sakowin Camp as blizzard conditions grip the area around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Dec. 6, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country had been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
South Dakota utility regulators voted Tuesday in Pierre to release the road bond and the public liaison officer associated with a controversial crude oil pipeline.
The Public Utilities Commission move comes six years after the Dakota Access Pipeline’s completion in 2017.
The road bond is a financial guarantee requiring the pipeline company to cover any damages to roads during construction. The public liaison officer helped the commission manage communications with affected landowners and the pipeline company.
Brett Koenecke is the lawyer representing the pipeline and submitted the motion to terminate the bond and liaison. In a document submitted to regulators, he wrote that the motion is “based on the fact that construction is long concluded.”
A few landowners criticized the PUC’s decision, suggesting it’s premature.
“Having the Dakota Access pipeline on our land, we witnessed the hurried construction of this pipeline in 2016,” wrote Rod and Joy Hohn, of Hartford. “This, in addition to the inadequate/deficient lack of in-depth inspections, should also be of great concern.”
Peggy Hoogestraat’s land near Chancellor is also crossed by the pipeline. She expressed concern that the decision was being made without adequate notice to all impacted landowners.
“Some have changed their phone numbers, sold their land, and those people have no idea about any of this,” she told South Dakota Searchlight.
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Regulatory staff responded to her concerns, writing that landowners would receive notice; however, “It is the responsibility of formal docket parties to ensure their contact information is updated should they desire to be informed of future docket action.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline, which spans 1,172 miles and transports crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, stirred controversy during its planning and construction phases. Concerns ranged from environmental impacts to the rights of Indigenous communities, including the Standing Rock Reservation, which closely borders the pipeline route.
Commissioner Chris Nelson said the effect of removing the bond and liaison will be minimal.
“The company is still responsible, ultimately, ” he said, adding that the commission’s staff is capable of filling the role of the liaison in the future.
The pipeline traverses 13 counties in South Dakota. The route enters South Dakota in Campbell County at the North Dakota border and extends in a southeasterly direction, exiting the state at the Iowa border in Lincoln County. The length of the pipeline through South Dakota is 272 miles.
Pipeline’s future unclear
Despite being completed and operational, the pipeline remains under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers due to court orders arising from litigation.
Earlier this year, federal officials released a draft environmental review of the pipeline but said they’re waiting for more input before deciding the future of the line – particularly the Missouri River crossing, upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation.
Thousands of people protested near the pipeline’s river crossing for months, resulting in hundreds of arrests when the pipeline was being constructed.
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