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North Dakota still seeking to recoup pipeline protest costs

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Panel: Dakota Access-style protests could become commonplace (copy)

In this Nov. 11, 2016, file photo, law enforcement try to move Dakota Access pipeline protesters further down during a protest at a pipeline construction site south of St. Anthony, N.D. North Dakota is continuing to seek federal funding to help pay state law enforcement bills related to months of protests over construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, despite being rejected on its first attempt.

BISMARCK, N.D. | North Dakota is continuing to seek federal funding to help pay state law enforcement bills related to months of protests over construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, despite being rejected on its first attempt.

The state has applied for nearly $14 million in funding from a Justice Department program that helps pay costs related to law enforcement emergencies around the country.

The state in late June applied to the Emergency Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Program, according to U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. The North Dakota Democrat sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday, urging his agency to "expeditiously review and approve" the state's request. A decision is expected by the end of September.

The $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners began moving oil from North Dakota to a distribution point in Illinois in June. The project is still being contested in federal court by American Indian tribes who fear a leak could endanger their water supply, and protests from August to February resulted in a large-scale police response and 761 arrests.

Gov. Doug Burgum in late April asked President Donald Trump for a disaster declaration to pave the way for federal aid to help recoup the $38 million spent by the state policing the protests and spare taxpayers the expense. The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the request in May.

Such declarations typically involve natural disasters, and the governor's office acknowledged last month that the request was a "longshot." The state did not appeal.

The Justice Department program might be better tailored to the civil unrest North Dakota experienced. One example of a past grant is about $625,000 during the Waco standoff in Texas in 1993.

The North Dakota Legislature and Burgum earlier this year approved borrowing money to fund the protest response, but that money would have to be repaid by state taxpayers. There also is a longstanding offer from ETP to pay the state costs, and Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki on Tuesday said that option hasn't been ruled out.

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