Butte County is taking steps to prepare for a possible overflow of inmates in event of protests — and subsequent mass arrests — during the expected construction of the Keystone XL pipeline later this year.
Butte County Commissioners recently voted unanimously to approve an agreement between Sheriff Fred Lamphere and officials in Faulk County, which is approximately 250 miles away in eastern South Dakota, to hold inmates in the event custody options are limited locally.
"The only reason we did it was kind of an insurance thing," Butte County Commissioner Stan Harms said Monday. "We don't have a jail in Butte County. We normally use Sturgis, and if we can't get in there, the overflow goes to Deadwood or Rapid City. Now, we have Faulk County in case everything is full up."
The Keystone XL Pipeline is a 1,179-mile pipeline extension that will carry crude oil from Alberta to Steele City, Neb., through nine counties in western South Dakota, including private property in the northeastern corner of Butte County. Sheriff Lamphere said Wednesday that the county seat in Faulkton is the closest jail facility east from what he called the "pinchpoint" in northeastern Butte County.
"If you get on 212 and travel east, they're (Faulk County) the first suitable facility that would have room," Lamphere said. "I don't know many other places that work West River."
Butte County typically has from 12 to 15 individuals incarcerated at the Meade County jail, Lamphere said, though there's been a spike in the last half of 2018 thanks to drug-fueled crimes. In the event of arrests of protesters trespassing on private property or disorderly conduct, Lamphere said the county could move some longer-term inmates from Meade County to Faulkton to ease up space in Sturgis.
"It's a preventive maintenance," Lamphere said.
In 2016, law enforcement agents with Morton County in North Dakota made mass arrests during protests that drew thousands to the Cannonball River to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. On Monday, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said his department made 863 arrests between August 2016 and February 2017 during the height of the protests.
"I only had a 42-bed facility at the time the protest was going on," Kirchmeier said. "Once they got to the LAC (law enforcement center), they would be processed and then bused to other locations throughout the state."
Kirchmeier said they had arrangements with approximately half a dozen counties to use their jails in overflow situations. Most individuals arrested were in custody for two to three days and cost approximately $75 a day.
An official with the Meade County jail said the facility has a maximum capacity of 80 inmates. Lawrence County jail in Deadwood holds 51 and the Pennington County jail holds 624, according to their websites. An official with the Faulk County jail said their facility holds 34 individuals.
Keystone XL is currently held up in federal court. In November, Judge Brian Morris in Montana issued an injunction against the pipeline until the federal government takes another look at the environmental impact of TransCanada's pipeline. Last month, Judge Morris also halted pre-construction activities such as establishing pipeline yards and road work along anticipated "man camps" until further notice.
While Lamphere doesn't expect large police action in Butte County, he said his force is prepared to assist neighboring counties.
"We'll be on the same page," he said.