Bakken Pipeline Foes Return to Des Moines River for Second Flotilla

SHARE
Members of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition prepare for a press conference Saturday morning before the flotilla. Photo: Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

On Saturday morning, members of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition returned to the Norton’s Ford put-in site along the Des Moines River in Boone County to embark on a flotilla protest against the Dakota Access pipeline that now pumps crude oil under the river just north of the County Highway E18 bridge.

Last June, when the coalition first organized a flotilla, construction crews had not yet pulled the pipeline under the river — efforts to stop it continued through the fall — and protesters still hoped to halt the project. Saturday’s plans, then, may have seemed like a bittersweet reprise, now that the pipeline has been operational since the first of the month.

Instead, with news that a federal district court ruled in favor of North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that the Army Corps of Engineers conducted an inadequate environmental review for the project, the second flotilla became an opportunity to celebrate a fight that has not yet been entirely lost.

Members of the flotilla, shortly after crossing under the E18 bridge near the Bakken pipeline's route. Photo: Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer
Members of the flotilla, shortly after crossing under the E18 bridge near the Bakken pipeline’s route. Photo: Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

At the put-in site before about two dozen canoes and kayaks set out on the river, the coalition held a brief press conference, although the media presence was scant. During it, Carolyn Raffensperger, the Ames-based attorney who runs the Science and Environmental Health Network, reiterated her legal case that, because of the federal court ruling, Dakota Access no longer meets all of the conditions upon which the Iowa Utilities Board granted the company its construction permit for the state, and its pipeline should be shut down. (The ruling did not put a halt to the pipeline’s service, and a remedy has not yet been determined.)

“We need to make sure that people follow the law,” Raffensperger said. “If a 16-year-old did not have a permit to drive, we would not say, well, he’s been driving for two months so we’ll let him continue driving.”

Ed Fallon, the director of the environmental group Bold Iowa (and whose gubernatorial campaign I volunteered on a decade ago before becoming a journalist), reminded coalition members of another protest July 1 outside the state Capitol in Des Moines targeting the IUB, saying part of its focus would be on pressuring Gov. Kim Reynolds to replace Richard Lozier on the board. Lozier, former Gov. Terry Branstad’s latest appointee to the board, has recused himself from any decisions on the Dakota Access pipeline because of his recent work as legal counsel for the pro-pipeline front group Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now.

At a gate to an easement outside a pipeline valve on LaVerne Johnson's property in Boone County, where a man in a vehicle with North Dakota license plates drove by, watching as the Informer took photographs. Photo: Gavin Aronsen
At a gate to an easement outside a pipeline valve on LaVerne Johnson’s property in Boone County, where a man in a vehicle with North Dakota license plates drove by, watching as the Informer took photographs. Photo: Gavin Aronsen

After a tranquil four-and-a-half-mile journey down the river, under the E18 bridge and onward to the take-out site at the North Fraser ramp, coalition members, as they did last year, departed to a community center in Pilot Mound for a potluck and discussion. Along the way, men in vehicles with out-of-state license plates — possibly with the private security firm TigerSwan — observed protesters near the pipeline’s route, which was visible in nearby fields by the red easement gates and patches of dirt where no crops had taken root.

At the community center, Angie Carter, a founding member of the pipeline resistance coalition who is leaving the state soon for a job in Michigan, recounted the pipeline protest movement’s efforts in Iowa since the project was first announced in the summer of 2014. Those efforts included dozens of direct actions at which protesters risked arrest, petition drives targeting Branstad and the local office of the Army Corps near Des Moines, an alliance with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and another flotilla last summer along the South Skunk River across which the pipeline now also flows.

Carter ended with a call to action going forward, encouraging the small crowd gathered at the center to use what they had learned over the course of the past three years protesting the pipeline in their future efforts to protect Iowa’s water — evoking the movement’s common refrain, “Water is life.”

SHARE
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.