CANNON BALL, N.D. — Authorities this week cleared the last holdouts from a large Dakota Access pipeline protest camp on federal land, but it will be a while before the region returns to normal.
There's tons of debris to be cleared. A main highway bridge remains closed. Hundreds of protesters are still in the area. The pipeline operator is rushing to complete construction and says oil could flow within 10 days. Looming over it all is a still-unresolved court battle.
"This was beautiful North Dakota prairie in a sensitive watershed area," Gov. Doug Burgum said of the square-mile protest camp at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers. "It's only use prior to this was for cattle grazing."
But since August, it was home to hundreds and at times thousands of people who support the claims of Sioux nations that the $3.8 billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois threatens drinking water, sacred sites and tribal religious practices. Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes that.
The Army Corps of Engineers ordered the Oceti Sakowin camp closed Wednesday in advance of spring flooding. About 200 protesters left peacefully, with another 56 being arrested over two days for defying the order to leave. Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officers at the same time cleared the much smaller Rosebud camp just to the south on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Many who left those camps planned to go to one of three nearby camps, all of which are on the reservation.
The status of the remaining protest camps is uncertain.
The longstanding Sacred Stone Camp has swelled to about 550 people with the influx of about 150 people this week, according to Joye Braun, a protest leader. But whether that camp and another known as Seventh Generation Rising are on private land or tribal land is in dispute. Protesters haven't been able to get into another camp established on private land by the Cheyenne River Sioux because of an Indian affairs bureau roadblock. The Standing Rock Tribal Council also has made it clear it wants all of the camps to shut down.
"We are working with the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs" on an agreement to resolve the situation, Braun said.