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South Dakota preps first responder communications for Keystone XL protests

The Syncrude oil sands plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 28, 2015. The Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil from Canadian oil sands fields to the Gulf of Mexico, has long been at the center of a struggle pitting environmentalists against advocates of energy independence and economic growth. Copyright 2017 New York Times

PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota state council is planning communications methods for law enforcement ahead of Keystone XL protests, though construction of the controversial pipeline appears to be months away.

The Public Safety Communications Council on Wednesday, June 5, said they are helping local police forces set up encrypted radio equipment ahead of any protests of TC Energy (formally known as TransCanada)'s pipeline build through the state. Pipeline construction is still on hold as TC Energy battles for the appropriate permits in federal court.

Jeff Pierce, the engineering manager for the Bureau of Information and Telecommunications, said these are systems local governments may not already have in place, but will allow law enforcement to securely communicate should they establish an emergency operations center in response to protests.

Pierce said he anticipates the largest protests will be in counties where the pipeline will cross water "because that's the longest standstill part of this project."

Of two pipeline bills introduced by Noem near the end of the 2019 legislative session, Senate Bill 190 establishes the Pipeline Engagement Activity Coordination Expenses Fund to disburse law enforcement costs incurred due to pipeline protests among county, state and federal governments, as well as TC Energy.

Her other pipeline bill, Senate Bill 189, establishes civil penalties for "riot boosting," or funding violent protests aimed to stop pipeline construction. Money recovered from riot boosters could be funneled back into the PEACE Fund. SB 189 is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe in May asked Noem to stay off of the Pine Ridge reservation after she signed the pipeline bills into law. Over a month later, at an unrelated appearance on Tuesday, Noem said she hadn't yet spoken to Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner.