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Nine arrested at Dakota Access Pipeline protest site

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Protests at North Dakota Access Pipeline on October 28, 2016.

A handful of people were arrested Wednesday at a protest site near the Dakota Access Pipeline after a deadline to leave the area. Authorities have also closed the camp.

Lt. Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said nine people were arrested at the Oceti Sakowin camp after the 2 p.m. deadline set by Gov. Doug Burgum.

Iverson said authorities had given a group of protesters who agreed to be arrested an additional two hours but that group did not materialize.

He said law enforcement were confronted by “agitators” who approached the law enforcement line “provoking them.” He said authorities were patient and gave people multiple warnings to back up and leave the roadway outside the camp entrance. Some people backed off, he said.

That group included several journalists, Iverson said.

Last week, Burgum signed the emergency evacuation order of the property to allow private contractors to remove waste from the Oceti Sakowin camp area, which officials say is in a flood plain. The order said warm temperatures have accelerated snowmelt and increased the risk of flooding, and that those in the flood plain are at risk of personal danger.

Burgum’s order comes as the project moves closer to completion after the US Army Corps of Engineers recently granted an easement for the last stretch of the 1,172-mile pipeline bitterly opposed by Native Americans and environmentalists.

About 100 people voluntarily marched out of the protest camp near Cannon Ball ahead of Wednesday’s deadline. The protesters chanted, waved flags and played drums as they left.

A handful of tents were set ablaze Wednesday morning. Tribal member Kaooplus Enimkla Thunder and Lightning said some of the tents were frozen into the ground and had to be burned to be removed.

On Tuesday, nearly all the yurts were gone at the camp. Some tepees were stripped to the poles and the landscape was a muddy mess, with heaps of trash in some areas.

Many protesters have left, but a few who refused to budge said they don’t believe the fight is over.

“I’m not going anywhere. I carry a knife with me all the time. But I am handing that over so that I have no weapons on me. I will stay and pray, even if they come to remove us,” Valerie Armstrong, 36, of Sherman, Texas, said Tuesday.

Instead of leaving, Armstrong was busy building a tiny wooden house.

‘A deep sadness’

Oceti Sakowin was the main camp closest to where the pipeline will go underneath the Missouri River. At the peak of protests, the camp’s population climbed to as many as 10,000 people. A couple of hundred remained Tuesday as heavy equipment hauled away materials. Some campers also helped clean up.

“I have no fear. … I am living in the purest form I can,” Eric Wallace-Senft told CNN affiliate KFYR-TV in Bismarck. “If they are people who want to harm me, then that’s on them.”

Another woman seemed more circumspect.

“There’s obviously despair,” Ellie Davis told the station. “There is like a deep sadness. … This was beautiful what was built here.”

North Dakota officials have strongly encouraged the remaining protesters to leave.

North Dakota officials, including the North Dakota Department of Health, have partnered to bus protesters to a travel assistance center, where they would be able to receive water and snacks, health assessments, a hotel lodging for a night and bus fare home.

“Our goal is that everyone who wants to vacate the camps prior to 2 p.m. tomorrow has every resource available to do so,” Levi Bachmeier, a policy adviser to Burgum, said Tuesday.

The North Dakota National Guard said $8.7 million had been spent since August on responding to the protests.