Arson Investigation Launched at Three Bakken Pipeline Construction Sites

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A construction site along the Bakken pipeline's route in Campbell, South Dakota. Photo: Lars Plougmann/Flickr

On Monday, the Newton Daily News reported that fires last weekend at three sites along Dakota Access LLC’s Bakken pipeline construction route, in Jasper and Mahaska counties, damaged close to $1 million in equipment and are being treated as suspected acts of arson.

The two sites in Jasper county, according to reporter Matt Mendenhall, were 4.5 miles west of Newton and 2.5 miles southeast of the town of Reasoner. Mendenhall confirmed a third report of construction equipment damaged by fire 8.5 miles north of Oskaloosa in Mahaska County.

“We believe it’s an obvious, intentionally set fire,” Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty told the paper at the site outside Newton, where a bulldozer and track hoe were reportedly badly damaged. “It wasn’t like the equipment overheated.”

There are not yet any reports of suspects in the cases.

Mendenhall reported further:

The equipment is owned by Huston-based subcontractor Pe Ben U.S.A. and Precision Pipeline of Eau Claire, Wis. is running the Jasper County job sites.

A representative from Precision Pipeline declined to comment Monday, but work site superintendents told the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department the fires would set construction back about one day. Precision has experienced minor cases of vandalism on other project sites but has never had equipment set on fire in Iowa.

Halferty said the state fire marshal and Iowa DCI have also been notified of the incidents. The Jasper County Sheriff’s Office and the Newton Fire Marshal are leading the investigations near Newton and Reasnor.

Law enforcement is working the case on minimal evidence, Halferty said, and the sheriff’s office is asking for the public’s assistance in the case.

A week ago, Dakota Access cleared its final major regulatory hurdle, receiving construction permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bury the pipeline under major waterways including the Missouri and Mississippi rivers that border Iowa. Opponents of the project have vowed to continue fighting it, through landowner lawsuits, monitoring construction for potential violations, and nonviolent direct action along the construction route.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.