The around-the-clock encampment near the site in Lee County where the Dakota Access pipeline will cross the Mississippi River swelled to more than 250 people last Saturday morning and afternoon. Opponents of the pipeline said even more people are needed if they are going to permanently halt construction.
The encampment got its start about three weeks ago when Jessica Reznicek of Des Moines started sleeping in a tent in a ditch along River Road north of Keokuk to show her opposition to the pipeline and her support for the Mississippi River. The encampment has grown ever since.
One of the new residents is Alex Cohen of St. Louis, who traveled to Lee County after hearing Tri States Public Radio's interview with Reznicek. He has since assumed the duty of “official contact person” for the encampment.
Cohen said there are now about a dozen permanent residents. He said a second site has been established nearby, thanks to a neighboring landowner.
“We’re camped right at the construction site with nothing really separating us, no trees or fence, just this invisible easement property line,” said Cohen.
Cohen said there is plenty of room for more people at the two locations. He expects hundreds of people to arrive on Saturday for another day of non-violence training and civil disobedience.
Cohen stressed that no matter what form that action takes, the only way to halt construction is to put pressure on the construction company every day, not just Saturdays.
“To shut this down, we need people either willing to risk arrest every day or willing to push the limits to really shut this down,” said Cohen.
Cohen said along with the civil disobedience expected this weekend, there will be several bands entertaining the people at the encampment Saturday night. Some are calling it "Ditchfest." He said fundraising is already underway for food and other supplies for the encampments and for legal aid for anyone arrested.
The legal aid is a necessary component in case people are arrested.
Authorities last weekend arrsted more than 40 people from five Midwestern states (Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana). The Lee County Sheriff’s Office this week released its final arrest log for Saturday, Sept. 17.
It showed about 40% of the people arrested were from Keokuk and the surrounding area. They volunteered to be arrested by trespassing on land controlled by Dakota Access.
Keokuk led the way with 11 arrests on Saturday, followed by Iowa City with 8. The ages of those arrested range from 16-72.
All but one were cited for trespassing and released, including five juveniles. The Sheriff’s Office has said repeat offenders could be forced to spend the night in jail.
Chief Deputy Scott Bonar said he was pleased with how last Saturday went, in terms of the demonstrators remaining peaceful. But he said the demonstrations are taking a toll on his department’s bottom line.
Bonar said he had to call in six off-duty deputies to work last weekend so he could maintain standard staffing levels that day elsewhere in the county. He said the final price tag for overtime for that one day was about $800.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors suggested that the county total up the amount spent and send a bill to Dakota Access. Vice Chairman Matt Pflug said the county did not ask for the project and that the law enforcement cost should be the company’s responsibility.