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North Dakota Leaders Urge Obama to OK Pipeline Completion

Legislators sent a letter to Obama imploring him to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to approve the pipeline's crossing under the Missouri River in North Dakota

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    James MacPherson/AP
    Protesters against the Dakota Access oil pipeline stand on a burned-out truck near Cannon Ball, N.D., Monday, Nov. 21, 2016, removed from a long-closed bridge on Sunday on a state highway near their camp in southern North Dakota. North Dakota legislators are asking Barack Obama to move forward with completing the pipeline.

    North Dakota's governor and congressional delegation are pressuring President Barack Obama to pave the way for completion of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline.

    People have been protesting the controversial pipeline, which is near the standing Rock Sioux Reservation, for months. The tribe and others opposing the construction say the pipeline threatens the tribe's drinking water along with American Indian cultural sites.

    Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer sent a letter Wednesday to Obama imploring him to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to approve the pipeline's crossing under the Missouri River in North Dakota. Democratic U.S. Rep. Heidi Heitkamp says she also pressed the White House this week to intervene.

    Protests surrounding the pipeline came to a head this weekend when a New York woman, Sophia Wilansky, was seriously hurt.

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    Wilansky's father, Wayne Wilansky, said his daughter was hurt when law enforcement threw a grenade. The Morton County Sheriff's Office maintains authorities did not use concussion grenades or any devices that produce a flash or bang during a clash late Sunday and early Monday near the camp along the pipeline route in southern North Dakota where protesters have gathered for months.

    The sheriff's office suggested in a statement Monday that an explosion heard during the skirmish might have been caused by small propane tanks that authorities said protesters had rigged to explode.

    Wayne Wilansky disputed the claim by authorities, saying "there's multiple witnesses and my daughter, who was completely conscious, said they threw a grenade right at her."

    The North Dakota Highway Patrol in a statement Tuesday that backed up the sheriff's office's version of events, saying officers during the skirmish spotted protesters with "multiple silver cylinder objects."

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    "It was at this time an explosion occurred and several protesters ran to the area, pulled a female from under the burned vehicle, and fled the scene," the patrol said.

    Officers who investigated found 1-pound propane tanks "including one that appeared to be intentionally punctured," the agency statement said.

    During the clash, officers used tear gas, rubber bullets and sprayed water at protesters with subfreezing temperatures outside. Officers say the protestors assaulted officers with rocks, asphalt, water bottles and burning logs. One officer was injured when struck in the head with a rock. At least 17 protesters were injured severely enough to be taken to hospitals, according to Dallas Goldtooth, a protest organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

    On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that North Dakota's Emergency Services department would seek an additional $7 million in emergency borrowing to fund law enforcement costs related to ongoing protests of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

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    Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong said officials will request the additional funding from the state Emergency Commission on Nov. 30.

    Fong says state costs have reached more than $11.8 million. Morton County also has spent more than $8 million policing protests, and county officials have said they might apply for reimbursement from the state.

    Earlier this month, Obama raised the possibility of rerouting the pipeline. The crossing that North Dakota legislators are seeking approval for is the final large segment of the $3.8 billion pipeline, which will carry North Dakota oil to Illinois. The work is delayed while the Corps consults with the Standing Rock Sioux, who oppose the project.