Stenehjem Urges Protestors to Comply with Emergency Evacuation Order

BISMARCK – Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem today urged immediate compliance with Governor Burgum’s emergency evacuation order of protestors residing on federal land managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in Morton County, for purposes of environmental cleanup to protect public health and prevent harm to the Missouri River.

“I urge all remaining individuals to immediately vacate the area known as the ‘Oceti Sakowin camp site’ so that cleanup work can be completed before the area is inundated with floodwater. The threat to the environment is very real and the situation is urgent. This is about protecting the land and the waters of the Missouri River from pollution from tons of garbage, human waste and other hazardous items,” said Stenehjem.

Stenehjem emphasized the emergency evacuation order is not intended to preclude the lawful exercise of free speech and will only become a law enforcement matter if those who have been ordered to leave refuse to do so. In that case, law enforcement will do what is necessary to protect public health and safety.

“It’s time for protesters to either go home, or move to a legal site where they can peaceably continue their activities without risk of further harm to the environment. As the Governor and law enforcement officials have said, anyone who refuses to leave could be subject to arrest,” Stenehjem continued.

It is a separate criminal offense to refuse to comply with an emergency evacuation order.

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Health Advisory for Possible Contaminated Foods Issued

BISMARCK – Residents of North Dakota are on alert for a possible contamination of food products distributed throughout the state. In response to the notification received from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the North Dakota Department of Health is issuing a consumer advisory for sauces produced by Dukarani Food Processing, Inc. of Minneapolis. These products have the potential to be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium which can cause life-threatening illness or death.

The advisory includes 8 oz. glass jars of Pepper Sauce, Ketele Sauce, and Benniseed Sauce produced and sold by Dukarani Food Processing. The products were produced and sold through Friday, Feb. 9, 2017.

 These products were identified at one privately owned ethnic food store in Fargo. The products have been removed from this store. However, not all product distributed to stores in North Dakota could be accounted for due to lack of records kept by the processor. Since state or federal regulatory officials cannot verify these products were properly processed, they should not be consumed. State officials in Minnesota and North Dakota are not aware of any illnesses associated with these products.

 Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning, can cause the following symptoms: general weakness, dizziness, double vision, and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension, and constipation are also possible. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention.

 Consumers who purchased this product should discard the product and are warned not to eat the product, even if it does not look or smell spoiled.

Pope Weighs in on Dakota Access Pipeline

BISMARCK – Pope Francis appeared on Wednesday to back Native Americans seeking to halt part of the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the earth”.

The Latin American pope, who has often strongly defended indigenous rights since his election in 2013, made his comments on protection of native lands to representative of tribes attending the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome.

While he did not name the pipeline, he used strong and clear language applicable to the conflict, saying development had to be reconciled with “the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories”.

Francis spoke two days after a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction of the final link of the project that sparked months of protests by activists aimed at stopping the 1,170-mile line.

Speaking in Spanish, Francis said the need to protect native territories was “especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth”.

The Standing Rock Sioux and and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have argued the project would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies at a lake they say is surrounded by sacred ground.

“In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent (of native peoples) should always prevail,” the pope said, citing the 1997 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Thousands of tribe members, environmentalists and others set up camps last year on Army Corps land in the North Dakota plains as protests intensified.

In December, the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama denied the last permit needed by Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the $3.8 billion pipeline.

But last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a final easement, after President Donald Trump issued an order to advance the project days after he took office in January.

The pope made an indirect criticism last week of another Trump project, a wall along the border with Mexico, saying society should not create “walls but bridges” and ask others to pay for them.

“Do not allow those which destroy the earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples,” he said.

Minimum Wage Increase Voted Down

BISMARCK — The North Dakota House voted down a $2 increase in the state’s hourly minimum wage on Monday. House Bill 1263 would have increased the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.25 an hour starting in 2018 with annual adjustments for cost of living increases beginning a year after that.

Primary sponsor Representative Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said costs for things such as rent have gone up in recent years without a boost in the minimum wage.

People representing business associations testified against the bill last week, arguing both the free market and a demand for workers were keeping wages high in North Dakota.

North Dakota’s minimum wage is consistent with the federal government’s but is below the standard set by neighboring states.

The controversial  bill failed on a 13-77 vote.

Produced Water Spill in Mountrail County

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) has been notified of a produced water spill in Mountrail County resulting from a tank leak at a central tank battery owned by Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation.

The spill occurred on Friday, February 3, approximately 7 miles north of New Town and was reported that same day. Produced water is a by-product of oil and gas development.

Initial estimates indicate approximately 450 barrels of produced water were released, impacting a cultivated field. Whiting is in the process of cleaning up the spill.

Personnel from the NDDoH and North Dakota Oil and Gas Division were on site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation.

Gas Prices Continue to Fall in North Dakota

BISMARCK – Average retail gasoline prices in North Dakota have fallen 0.9 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.27/g yesterday, according to GasBuddy’s daily survey of 493 gas outlets in North Dakota. This compares with the national average that has fallen 3.3 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.26/g.

Including the change in gas prices in North Dakota during the past week, prices yesterday were 58.5 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago and are 5.7 cents per gallon higher than a month ago. The national average has decreased 6.7 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 46.2 cents per gallon higher than this day one year ago.

According to GasBuddy historical data, gasoline prices on January 30 in North Dakota have ranged widely over the last five years:
$1.68/g in 2016, $1.97/g in 2015, $3.18/g in 2014, $3.24/g in 2013 and $3.29/g in 2012.

Areas near North Dakota and their current gas price climate:
Sioux Falls- $2.22/g, down 5.8 cents per gallon from last week’s $2.27/g.
Fargo- $2.18/g, flat from last week’s $2.18/g.
South Dakota- $2.27/g, down 4.5 cents per gallon from last week’s $2.31/g.

“For the 22nd straight day, the national average for a gallon of gasoline has dropped, the longest such streak since last summer,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. “Average prices now stand at their lowest thus far in 2017 and the lowest since before Christmas, thanks primarily to weak demand for gasoline and also bulging inventories of gasoline.”

“Soaking weather on the West Coast has certainly dampened motorists appetite for gasoline, while in the Midwest, weak demand has led to a surplus of winter gasoline, leading some stations in the region to offer the nation’s lowest price: $1.52 can be found at a gas station in Oxford, Ohio. But before motorists celebrate such cheap gas, the sweet deal likely won’t stick much longer as we’ve been waiting since last week to see such loss-leaders to disappear. However, we may continue to see the national average moderate during the next week, with the exception in the Great Lakes- where a price adjustment of sorts is still expected,” DeHaan said.

Shocking New Driving Law Proposed

BISMARCK – Lawmakers in that state are set to vote today on a bill that would legalize accidentally running over protesters in the road, one of several new measures across the country that aim to discourage disruptive protests.

House Bill 1203, which began receiving committee hearings last week, was written as a direct response to protests at the Standing Rock reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, against the Dakota Access pipeline, Representative Keith Kempenich, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Kempenich introduced the North Dakota bill, which states that if a driver “unintentionally” causes injury or death to someone blocking traffic on a roadway, then the driver will not be liable for damages.

Kempenich said he was spurred to act after Dakota Access Pipeline protesters last year moved to block public roadways, scaring some of his constituents.

Wes Clark Jr., a military veteran and environmental activist who spearheaded the deployment of at least 2,000 veterans to Standing Rock at the height of the protests last year, likened the bill to “legalizing murder.” Clark said he assumed “any lawyer with a conscience” would challenge it in court if the bill were signed into law.

In recent weeks legislatures in Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa have moved to add laws specifically targeting roadway blocking. The proposed bills have dismayed the American Civil Liberties Union, which fears they would trample First Amendment rights.

House Bill 1203 isn’t the only bill introduced in the North Dakota legislature in response to the pipeline protests. One proposed bill would make it a crime for adults to wear masks, and another would allow the state to sue the federal government over policing costs related to pipeline protests.