CANNON BALL, N.D. | Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary made a request on Tuesday of out-of-state visitors who are in the state to protest against the Dakota Access pipeline: Go home for the holiday.
At a news conference Tuesday at the city building in downtown Bismarck, Seminary said their voices against the pipeline had been heard over the past 100 days and that it is time to go home.
The mayor also disputed claims by protesters that Bismarck officials had a hand in choosing the pipeline route. He emphasized that no Bismarck officials or city staff had at any time engaged in conversations about the preferred route of the pipeline.
"Bismarck has never been involved in that discussion. Not one policy maker, not one department head, not one city employee has ever been involved in a discussion with regards to a route north of Bismarck .... So move on from that subject. You are wrong and you are creating issues," he said.
The protesters want to block construction of a $3.8 billion pipeline that would carry oil from the North Dakota oil fields to Illinois, crossing Native American lands and the Missouri River in the process.
Kirsten Kelsch, an organizer of five demonstrations held at the state Capitol and downtown Bismarck, countered that a lot of work needs to be done to stop the pipeline's completion.
"For the most part, we're not going anywhere until we can see we put a halt to the the digging," Keslch said. "No one will stop as long as they intend to continue digging .... People are really passionate about this, and it's not going to change until the pipeline is stopped."
Seminary thanked Bismarck residents for their patience during the legal protests as well as when protesters crossed the line to "civil disobedience." He then addressed the protesters.
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"We all know what your concerns are. We've heard them. Your messages have been well-delivered. They have been loud and profound. You can't be more productive than you have been. It's time to go home. It's time to go home to your family and loved ones and celebrate what's important to you. That's what we are going to be doing here," he said.
"When this passes, and it eventually will, we likely will have damaged relationships we must focus on that we must repair. You will be somewhere else," he told protesters of what he described as a historic event in Bismarck.
He said, according to area law enforcement reports, there have been about 500 arrests related to the DAPL protests.
"Most of you don't live here, which means most of you don't care what's left when you leave," he said.
The holiday season will make everyone thankful for the gifts of the city and thankful for the message the protesters have given, according to Seminary.
During the press conference, Police Chief Dan Donlin assured residents that the police department is fully staffed to protect the city.
"We make sure that is our No. 1 priority. After that is when we provide our support resources into Morton County," said Donlin, who advised businesses to have a lockdown plan ready.
Law enforcement will allow First Amendment rights to freedom of speech but will react to criminal activity, he said.