PELLA, Ia. — Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he will authorize the Iowa State Patrol to make arrests and ensure that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline proceeds if protesters follow through on a pledge to engage in civil disobedience in a bid to stop the $3.8 billion project.
The Republican governor told reporters at his weekly news briefing that no one should break the law and anti-pipeline activists should accept a vote by the Iowa Utilities Board to approve the project, which will run diagonally through 18 Iowa counties.
Anti-pipeline leader Ed Fallon said Monday he anticipates 50 to 100 pipeline opponents will gather along the pipeline construction site in rural Boone County on Wednesday in an effort to halt the project. The group opposes the project primarily for environmental reasons and because eminent domain is being used to condemn privately owned farmland.
"I think that the construction workers and others who have been working on the pipeline have been very patient and they want to go back to work, and they should be permitted to do that." Branstad said. "The Utilities Board has made its decision, and I think it important that people respect and recognize that they were very thoughtful and had a deliberative process. It went on for a long time, but the decision has been made, and it should be abided by.”
Asked specifically if he will provide the resources of the the Iowa State Patrol to assist local law enforcement officers who are protecting the pipeline construction project, Branstad replied, “Well, of course, the Iowa highway patrol protects the safety and well-being of Iowans, whether it is at the State Fair or on the highways or wherever it might be."
However, Branstad said it is premature to discuss calling up Iowa National Guard troops to protect the pipeline construction project, which is expected to employ 2,000 to 4,000 construction workers in Iowa this summer and fall.
"We are going to do what is necessary to protect people and to make sure that the workers and the people who are doing their jobs are able to do so," the governor said.
Lawyers for Dakota Access told Iowa utility regulators last week that 22 percent of the pipeline in Iowa has already been welded and lowered into trenches, and three-fourths of the route has been cleared. In South Dakota, 93 percent of the pipeline has already been constructed. In North Dakota, the project is 63 percent finished, and in Illinois it is 62 percent complete. The pipeline will transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill.
Fallon, a former Democratic state legislator from Des Moines, told The Des Moines Register on Monday he didn't want to disclose any strategy about what efforts will be made to halt the pipeline project on Wednesday. But he said some activists plan to engage in civil disobedience and will risk arrest.
"Our goal is to stop construction of the pipeline, which we consider to be illegally authorized," Fallon said. "We trusted in our Legislature, we trusted in the courts and the Corps of Engineers, and we still have hope that President Obama will weigh in on this."
Fallon added that anti-pipeline activists are angry and have no intentions of quitting. He said landowners and American Indian tribes have been poorly treated in the state and federal decision-making process, and concerns about the pipeline's impact on water and the climate have been ignored.
A bending crew wrangling pipe for the Bakken pipeline near Baxter, Iowa, Tuesday Aug 16, 2016. They have to bend the pipe to match the contour of the land before welding and burying the sections. Workers clear and grade the land, bend pipe and dig trenches in countryside outside Newton just north of Interstate-80.
Dakota Access officials say arson damage totaled nearly $3 million to construction equipment on the Iowa pipeline project earlier this month when nine pieces of heavy equipment were set on fire in Jasper and Mahaska counties. No arrests have been made. Fallon said all the activists who intend to engage in protests in Boone County this week will be non-violent.
In a related matter, Polk County District Judge Jeffrey Farrell denied a motion Monday to halt construction on the property of 14 landowners along the Iowa pipeline route. The matter could now be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, although pipeline opponent Fallon said he is concerned that the pipeline construction could be finished on the disputed land before the high court can consider the motion.
Pipeline company seeks restraining order against protestors
The company building an oil pipeline across Iowa is asking a federal judge to issue a restraining order against two protest groups and their leaders.
Dakota Access filed the action in Des Moines on Monday against Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bold Iowa and their directors including former state lawmaker Ed Fallon, who leads Bold Iowa.
The groups are planning acts of civil disobedience along the pipeline route to protest its construction.
The company seeks a court order keeping protesters at least 25 feet away from construction easements which it says will "permit the meaningful opportunity to exercise protected First Amendment speech while ensuring the safety of all involved."
Contributing: Associated Press.