(Reuters) – North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who took office last month in the height of tensions surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, said he believed the line would eventually be built and asked opponents to clean their protest camp before spring floodwaters create a potential ecological disaster.
A centrist Republican with no prior political experience, Burgum was elected in a landslide on a platform of streamlining government and improving relations across the state. Burgum built a successful software business before selling it to Microsoft Corp in 2001.
Burgum told Reuters that approval of the pipeline appeared to be a foregone conclusion once Donald Trump moved into the White House.
“I expect the world’s going to change dramatically on that day relative to finding resolution on this issue,” Burgum said in an interview. “I would expect that (Energy Transfer Partners) will get its easement and it will go through.”
A coalition of Native American groups, environmentalists, Hollywood stars and veterans of the U.S. armed forces protested the $3.8 billion oil project at a North Dakota camp, which at one point held more than 5,000, though that number has shrunk in size during the winter.
Opponents contend construction would damage sacred lands and any leaks could pollute the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Last month, President Barack Obama denied a key permit needed to complete the pipeline, but Trump has said he will review that decision.
Local law enforcement have voiced concerns that any reversal by the federal government could cause the area to swell again with protesters, straining resources.
David Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, has repeatedly asked protesters to leave the area and let the pipeline fight play out in courts.
Burgum said he agrees with Archambault and asked protesters to help clean up the camp before it threatens the environment itself. More than 300 vehicles, along with dozens of temporary dwellings and other detritus, have been abandoned at the campsite, which sits in a flood plain that is likely to be overrun by spring rain and snowmelt.
State officials are concerned that floodwaters could carry that material away.
“The amount of cleanup that needs to take place is enormous,” Burgum said. “We’ve got a potential ecological disaster if this land floods and all the debris flows downstream into tribal lands.”
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Andrew Hay)
IMAGE: A man holds an American flag while marching with veterans and activists outside the Oceti Sakowin camp where “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 5, 2016. Picture taken December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Yang