FORT PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Water Management Board on Tuesday approved five water permit applications for Keystone XL pipeline construction.
The hearing was so contentious that it stretched into a dozen days over the course of four months as tribes and environmental groups argued against their approval. After holding a brief period for public comment in Fort Pierre Tuesday, the board met in a closed executive session before voting to approve the permits, with added requirements for real-time monitoring and weekly check-ins with the state.
Opponents can appeal the board's decision. They didn't immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
TC Energy, the Canadian company building the pipeline, applied for permits to tap the Cheyenne, White and Bad rivers in South Dakota during construction. The water will be used for drilling to install pipe, build pump stations and control dust during construction. Two ranchers also applied for water permits to supply backup water to worker camps.
The board allowed three minutes for each person who wanted to comment before the executive session.
Two Native American youths — Tatanka Itancan, age 17, and his sister Zora Lone Eagle, age 13 — with painted handprints on their faces used their three minutes to silently stare at the board in protest. They said they had been refused permission to cross-examine experts during the hearing because they are minors and not represented by an attorney.
Itancan said they live within a couple miles of where the pipeline would cross the Cheyenne River.
Before the vote, Anthony Helland, a member of an environmental group called Dakota Rural Action, said oil pipelines and other fossil fuel industries have been "met with open arms by governmental bodies." He argued that the board should base their decision on whether the water use would serve the best interest of South Dakotans.
TC Energy spokeswoman Sara Rabern said in an emailed statement: "We are pleased that the SD Water Management Board has approved our applications and we look forward to working with the State of South Dakota as we move forward with this project."
Rabern said there are no other permits needed in South Dakota for TC Energy to begin construction.
An expert overseeing the pipeline's construction said building should begin this summer. When completed, Keystone XL would carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day in a 1,184-mile line from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska. In Nebraska, it would connect with other lines that go to Gulf Coast Refineries.