North Dakota’s governor ordered the immediate evacuation Sunday evening of the main Standing Rock encampment following a heavy snowstorm that blew across the state — but it’s not yet clear whether the order will have any effect beyond limiting the government’s liability.
The thousands of people who joined the camp in the last month must leave land controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers and not return, according to Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s executive order. He directed emergency services to stop guaranteeing they would access the area if needed.
“All persons in the evacuation area shall take all their possessions with them,” Dalrymple wrote. “Any action or inaction taken by any party which encourages persons to enter, reenter, or remain in the evacuation area will be subject to penalties as defined in law.”
The order stated that winter conditions could endanger those without “proper shelter, dwellings, or sanitation for prolonged periods of time,” and that the dwellings used by protestors, who call themselves water protectors, were not approved by Morton County officials to be suitable for the current weather conditions.
In the last week, protesters have built yurts and small houses insulated by hay bales; many of the structures have stoves with chimneys. But before the storm on Sunday, the majority of structures in the camp were non-winterized camping tents or vans.
The executive order adds pressure to the already tense standoff over the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, which protesters fear will poison water and destroy sacred sites. The governor’s order comes days after the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would close the site to the public on Dec. 5. The Corps designated a “free speech area,” and tribal chairman Dave Archambault II offered an area of tribal land for protestors to relocate.
Police maintain a roadblock on a bridge on Highway 1806, which means any vehicles traveling from the nearest town, Bismarck, must travel an additional 25 minutes to reach the site.
The executive order doesn’t say whether police will move in on the camp.