Hundreds of people from across the country traveled to Lee County, Iowa during the past two months to try to stop the construction of a crude oil pipeline through four Midwest states. It now appears that effort is over and demonstrators are moving on to other locations.
The effort in Lee County started in late August with one woman, Jessica Reznicek of Des Moines. Reznicek told Tri States Public Radio in September that after she traveled to North Dakota to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she wanted to do something in her home state, so she packed her gear and traveled to Lee County.
Reznicek was arrested twice during her first two days in the county for blocking access to a pipeline construction site with old tires. Following her arrests, she started a round-the-clock encampment that grew to eventually include dozens of people sleeping in a ditch at night.
The encampment became the base for frequent acts of civil disobedience, be it trespassing on land controlled by Dakota Access, the company behind the pipeline, or locking onto a vehicle so the vehicle could not move. The group, known as Mississippi Stand, was eventually forced to relocate to western Lee County due to safety concerns expressed by the county regarding Mississippi River Road.
After relocating, Mississippi Stand undertook what members described as its most effective act: the blocking of access to a gravel road along Highway 61 near Montrose.
The group said restricting access to that road prevented the construction firm from drilling beneath the river because it needed to dump the byproduct created by the drilling. The group’s barricades were in place for more than three days.
Dakota Access disputed the effectiveness in an email to Tri States public Radio this week. The company said construction was not delayed, which Mississippi Stand soon learned.
The group released a video on its Facebook page stating that the pipeline beneath the Mississippi River is in place, negating its efforts to halt construction in that area.
Alex Cohen of St. Louis joined the movement several weeks ago and became the unofficial spokesperson for Mississippi Stand. He expressed extreme disappointment in the video, even getting choked up and unable to speak at one point.
He said in the video that the fight was not over, but rather that it would be moving to a new location. He told Tri States Public Radio that the Lee County camp was to be torn down, with leftover items being donated to local churches and food pantries.
Cohen said most of the members plan to travel to North Dakota, taking with them the knowledge they learned about the process of boring beneath a river. He said they are also proud of the unplanned expenses Dakota Access had to account for in security and equipment because of their civil disobedience.
The blockade of the gravel road was taken down Thursday morning, leaving behind only some tree limbs previously used to defend the site. Cohen says the trailer donated to block the road will now travel with them to North Dakota.
He said it will probably be a few days before the members of Mississippi Stand, most of whom are not from Lee County, hit the road. Many people associated with the protests will have to return for court dates.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office estimates more than 100 people were arrested during the past two months, with the department racking up more than $5,000 in overtime costs during that time.
Meanwhile, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating an incident that occurred Tuesday at the blockade along Highway 61.
Chief Deputy Scott Bonar said two private security guards, who were not wearing a uniform, tried to apprehend a member of Mississippi Stand who was trying to get tree limbs from private property.
A video posted to the group’s Facebook page shows how other demonstrators were able to free the unidentified person.
Bonar said members of the group claimed they were assaulted by the security guards, so all of the parties involved were interviewed. He said that information has been presented to County Attorney Mike Short to determine if charges will be filed.