By Terray Sylvester
(Reuters) - Federal officials and North Dakota's governor on Thursday refused to extend next week's evacuation deadline for activists living in camps that have been a base for months for demonstrations against the multibillion-dollar Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Opponents of the 1,170-mile (1.882-km) line met with officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Republican Governor Doug Burgum and the state Department of Transportation on Thursday morning, asking to be given more time to remove their belongings and waste from the camps.
In a statement on Thursday evening, Burgum and the Army Corps refused to extend next Wednesday's deadline. Army Corps spokesman Ryan Hignight said contractors working for the agency would enter the camp as soon as they could.
"We're not going to necessarily wait for the 22nd," Hignight said.
Pipeline opponents say they fear fresh conflicts with law enforcement if Army Crops crews, including waste-removal personnel, are accompanied by police.
"It's completely impossible to remove everything down there in that short of a time frame," said Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "The people aren't opposed to the help of the Army Corps, but it's got to be without the presence of militarized law enforcement."
The exchange came a day after Burgum ordered pipeline opponents to move off of land owned by the Army Corps, citing safety and environmental pollution concerns posed by spring snowmelt and rising water levels in the nearby Cannonball River.
Hignight warned that anyone still occupying Army Corps land after the deadline could face fines as high as $5,000 and six-month jail terms. About 700 pipeline opponents have been arrested since August 2016.
Environmentalists and Native Americans who have opposed the pipeline, saying it threatens water resources and sacred sites, have faced a series of setbacks since Republican President Donald Trump took office in January.
A federal judge on Monday denied a request by Native American tribes seeking to halt construction of the final link of the $3.8 billion pipeline after the Corps of Engineers granted a final easement to Energy Transfer Partners LP last week.
(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Hood River, Ore.; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Peter Cooney)