By James MacPherson
CANNON BALL, N.D. — Protesters clashed with law enforcement late Sunday near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline, with at least one person arrested as protesters sought to push past a bridge on a state highway that had been blockaded since late October.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Office estimated 400 protesters were trying to cross the bridge on state Highway 1806 in what they called “an ongoing riot.” Law enforcement had formed a line to prevent their movement, and appeared to be using water cannons as temperatures dipped toward the low 20s.
The clash was at the Backwater Bridge, near where protesters had set up camp on private property owned by the pipeline developer, Energy Transfer Partners, before they were forcibly removed by law enforcement Oct. 27. It’s also about a mile from an uncompleted section under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir, where work has been on hold by order of federal agencies.
A video shot by a protester showed what appeared to be water cannons and tear gas being fired at protesters. The sheriff’s office said the incident began around 6 p.m. when protesters removed a burned-out truck that had been on the bridge since the Oct. 27 confrontation.
Rema Loeb told The Associated Press he was forced to retreat from the bridge because he feared being doused with water on the freezing night. Others, he said, needed medical treatment after being hit with tear gas.
“It’s been just horrible,” said the 83-year-old Loeb, who traveled from Massachusetts about two weeks ago to join the protests.
Tara Houska, an organizer with Honor the Earth, told the Bismarck Tribune that the Cannon Ball gym was opened to aid people who had been doused with water or tear gas.
Phone calls to the sheriff’s department late Sunday went to an answering machine.
The 1,200-mile, four-state pipeline is intended to carry oil from western North Dakota to a shipping point in Illinois. But construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline has been protested for months by the Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation lies near the pipeline route, and the tribe’s allies, who fear a leak could contaminate their drinking water. They also worry that construction could threaten sacred sites.
Energy Transfer Partners has said no sites have been disturbed and that the pipeline will have safeguards against leaks, and is a safer method of transport for oil than rail or truck. The company has said the pipeline is largely complete except for the section under Lake Oahe.
On Friday, Kelcy Warren, the chief executive of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, said the company is unwilling to reroute the pipeline.