You really have to feel for rancher David Meyer who has found himself in the middle of the often illegal and sometimes violent protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
A couple of weeks back Meyer sold some 6,000 acres of his historic Cannonball Ranch to pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners after the property was host to a violent crash between protesters and pipeline security workers. “It’s a beautiful ranch, but I just wanted out,” he told the folks at KXNews.
Now Meyer has been hung out to dry by the federal government – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, specifically – which isn’t interested in protecting the grazing rights he purchased on Corps land from protesters who are camping there and use it as a launching pad for their activities to block the pipeline.
The Corps’ justification? They don’t want to tread on the 1st amendment rights of the protesters. As if the 1st amendment protected trespassing:
The Corps announced Sept. 16 it would issue a special use permit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to use about 41 acres of Corps land south of the Cannonball River for a lawful free speech demonstration.
But the agency took no action act on the tribe’s request to use Corps land north of the river that’s now occupied by as many as 3,000 pipeline opponents, because that land is under an existing grazing lease.
Williamson said last week the Corps was still coordinating with the tribe on stipulations for use of the south land, including insurance and the number of people allowed, and the permit hadn’t actually been issued.
“They do have permission to be there,” she said. “However, what that includes is still being coordinated.”
Those who continue to use the north land do so “not just at their own risk, but at the risk to the leaseholder, as well,” she said.
The Corps requires the leaseholder — David Meyer, who recently sold more than 7,000 acres of ranchland north of the protest camp to Dakota Access LLC — to return the land to the agency in a condition that meets its requirements.
“If people are there and building something, killing the grass, digging holes, and when they’re done they leave, it’s either at the risk of the leaseholder or the individual risk of the people doing it,” Williamson said.
By the way, technically the Corps hasn’t even officially issued the permit for the use of the southern area. They’re still negotiating with the protesters on how that land is going to be used. Which is bad enough, but what’s going on with the area where Meyer has grazing rights is downright offensive.
According to the article, the protesters are digging pits and driving all over the land, and Meyer is the one on the hook for it. And yet, the federal government is soft peddling the issue with the protesters, claiming that somehow the 1st amendment means the protesters can’t just be removed from property they have no right to be on.
“We don’t have the physical ability to go out and evict people — it gives the appearance of not protecting free speech,” Corps spokeswoman Eileen Williamson told the Associated Press. “Our hands are really tied.”
But I, like Congressman Kevin Cramer, believe there is a double standard at play here.
“If that camp was full of people advocating for fossil fuels, they would have been removed by now,” Cramer told the AP. “There is some discretionary enforcement going on.”
You can be sure if, say, the pipeline company was staging equipment on this land without permit the federal government would be quick to act.
What’s even worse is that this encampment is where many of the illegal and violent attacks on the pipeline project are coming from. So not only is the federal government failing to honor the lease with Mr. Meyer, but they’re facilitating protest activities which are becoming increasingly dangerous.
This is completely irresponsible.