CANNON BALL, NORTH DAKOTA - More than 2,000 U.S. military veterans plan to form a human shield to protect protesters of a pipeline project near a Native American reservation in North Dakota, organizers said.
Meanwhile, North Dakota law enforcement will not make spot checks on vehicles headed to the camp where activists are based, the governor's office said on Wednesday, backing away from a previous plan.
Activists have spent months protesting plans to route the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying it poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native-American sites.
Pipeline mostly complete
The 1,885-kilometer (1,172-mile) pipeline project, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, is mostly complete, except for a segment planned to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
“I figured this was more important than anything else I could be doing," Guy Dull Knife, 69, a Vietnam War Army veteran, told Reuters at the main camp. Dull Knife, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, said he has been camping at the protest site for months.
Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, a contingent of more than 2,000 U.S. military veterans, intends to go to North Dakota and form a human wall in front of police, protest organizers said on a Facebook page. Organizers could not immediately be reached to comment.
Hawaiian lawmaker to join protesters
Morton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Rob Keller said in an email his agency was aware of the veterans' plans, but would not comment further on how law enforcement will deal with demonstrators.
Former U.S. Marine Michael A. Wood Jr is leading the effort along with Wesley Clark Jr, a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark.
U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii and a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, has said on Twitter she will join the protesters on Sunday.
The veterans will bolster the thousands of people protesting at camps located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, north of the Cannonball River in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Spot checks of cars stops
The Army Corps, citing safety concerns, has ordered the evacuation of the primary protest camp by Dec. 5, but said it would not forcibly remove people from the land.
The state's latest decision to avoid making spot checks on cars entering the protest site indicates local officials will not actively enforce Monday's emergency order to evacuate the camp issued by Governor Jack Dalrymple, who had cited a coming blizzard.
Local law enforcement said on Tuesday they planned a blockade of the camp, but local and state officials later retreated, saying they would only check vehicles for certain prohibited supplies like propane, and possibly issue fines.
"The governor has said there will be no checkpoints, no stopping of vehicles," said Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Dalrymple.