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Judge: Army Corps of Engineers created a 'liability mess' at the Dakota Access Pipeline

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Kim Jarrett

(The Center Square) - A U.S. District Court judge Friday denied a motion from the federal government to limit the scope of a lawsuit filed by North Dakota over security costs at the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

The state accused the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in a 2019 lawsuit of not managing the more than 5,000 protesters that camped out near the pipeline's construction site from August 2016 to March 2017.

The state spent more than $38 million on emergency services. Between $13 million and $14 million is still owed on a loan taken by the state to cover the cost, legislative budget analyst Allen Knudson told the Government Finance Committee earlier this month. 

The USACE created a "liability mess," U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor said in his ruling. 

“The (Corps’) failure to follow the permitting procedure opened the gates to North Dakota being damaged by the United States, its agencies, and third parties," Traynor said.  It let protestors and other hapless federal agencies exacerbate the damages and then left North Dakota to clean it up.”

The federal government's motion to limit the scope could be an effort to "prevent discovery from the other federal agencies involved in this case or caused damage to the state of North Dakota," the judge wrote in his ruling. 

Republican U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer said in a statement the ruling was the right one.

"The coordinated efforts by several federal agencies to facilitate illegal and often violent activity to shut down a properly cited and permitted pipeline must be exposed," Cramer said. "The state of North Dakota should not have to make its case with both hands tied behind their backs. Full access to witnesses and evidence from all of the participating agencies is important and appropriate."

Attorney General Drew Wrigley is leading the case against the USACE.

"As North Dakota's chief law enforcement officer, I intend to see this action through because it is so consequential for the State of North Dakota and its citizens," Wrigley said in a statement.