The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Friday that the public will not be allowed in areas being used to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In a letter to the tribe, John W. Henderson, a district commander with the Corps, said that the area will be closed by Dec. 5. Anyone found to be on "Corps-managed land" north of the Cannonball River after that date will be considered trespassing and subject to prosecution:
"I am closing the portion of the Corps-managed federal property north of the Cannonball River to all public use and access effective December 5, 2016.
"This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions."
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's chairman, Dave Archambault II, released a statement saying that the tribe is deeply disappointed by the move but it has not changed their resolve to prevent the pipeline from being built north of reservation lands.
"It is both unfortunate and ironic that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving – a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people. We have suffered much, but we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children."
Henderson's letter said the Corps has set up a free speech zone on land south of the river. He said that this area will allow police, fire and medical response teams to more easily access the area.
"I do not take this action lightly, but have decided that it is required due to the concern for public safety and the fact that much of this land is leased to private persons for grazing and/or haying purposes as part of the Corps' land management practices. To be clear, this means that no member of the general public, to include Dakota Access pipeline protestors, can be on these Corps' lands."
Opponents of the $3.8 billion dollar project have been protesting the pipeline for months, claiming the project could harm drinking water and will encroach on sacred sites.