Dump trucks and heavy machinery rolled into the protest camp near the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Monday, and crews began filling large dumpsters with garbage that has accumulated, much of it now buried under snow.
The clean-up marked cooperation among authorities and camp organizers. The decision to clean the site, where a few hundred protesters remain, was made on Sunday by state and local officials and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Those involved said it was not an effort to destroy the camp, which sits on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, but a move to prevent waste contaminating water sources.
"I’m not going to run people’s camps over. I’m not going to take anyone’s property or do anything like that," Hans Youngbird Bradley, a construction contractor from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said during the meeting.
There are dozens of abandoned cars and structures as well as waste at the camp.
“It is paramount for public safety, and to prevent an environmental disaster, that the camps be cleared prior to a potential spring flood,” said North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a Republican who supports the completion of the pipeline, in a statement.
Land is being leased on the Standing Rock Reservation for protesters who wish to remain in the area.
Protesters rallied for months against plans to route the $3.8 billion pipeline beneath Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying it threatened water resources and sacred Native American sites.
At one point, nearly 10,000 people had flocked to the site. But the number dwindled to several hundred after the Standing Rock Sioux asked activists to leave when a permit to drill under the lake was denied in December.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to speed up the completion of the project, dealing a blow to protesters.
(Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)