Congress has been informed by the U.S. Army that it will grant permission for the completion of controversial Dakota Access Pipeline near tribal territory.
The notice comes a month after President Trump backed the project in one of his first acts as the U.S. President.
The construction of $3.8bn pipeline in the state of North Dakota has been boycotted by thousands of predominantly Native American protesters.
The Standing Rock Tribe has vowed to fight the decision in court.
The four-state 1,172-mile project is almost finished, except for a one-mile stretch in North Dakota under Lake Oahe, where demonstrators have set up protest encampments.
The statement from Army on Tuesday read:
“The Department of the Army announced today that it has completed a presidential-directed review of the remaining easement request for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and has notified Congress that it intends to grant an easement.”
Easement is a term used for a special permit that allows a company to cross private land. Final approval can be announced as soon as Wednesday.
The lawyers for Standing Rock Sioux said that the approval for the project could not be “legally granted” at this time, but the announcement was welcomed by both Senators from North Dakota.
Democrat Heidi Heitkamp said that the decision brought “certainty and clarity,” while Republican John Hoeven stated that the project would serve country’s need for new energy infrastructure.
Opponents of the project, who have maintained the protests through bitter winter, are fighting till the end. In anticipation of annual floods, protesters tried to set up an alternative camp on the land owned by the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, but it resulted in the arrest of 76 people last week.
A leading member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Chase Iron Eyes, was among those arrested. He said that he’s facing five years in jail for inciting a riot and criminal trespass, charges which he denies.
The decision was criticized by environmental groups, including Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Center for Biological Diversity. They accused President Trump of placing corporate profits ahead of the environment and Native Americans.
According to the law enforcement officials, nearly 700 people have been arrested since protests began last year. Only last week, 76 protesters were arrested after they refused to leave the land owned by the energy company.
The crossing point proposed is upstream from the tribe’s territory, raising the fear that any rupture in the pipeline could threaten drinking water supplies. The pipeline’s owners, however, claim that the project is safe.
The Obama administration announced in September that it would not allow the project to proceed. The Army Corp of Engineers even took steps to launch a full environmental impact study of the pipeline just before Trump’s inauguration, but days after taking office, President Trump ordered the Army in a memorandum “to review and approve [the project] in an expedited manner.”
Supporters of the project argue that North Dakota oil will be transported cheaply, allowing the U.S. industry to compete with Canada.