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More Dakota Access Pipeline protesters arrested

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Turtle Hill as viewed from the area of Backwater Bridge is a site of multiple confrontations between law enforcement and protesters. Native Americans say the top of the hill is a sacred place.

Two Dakota Access Pipeline protesters were arrested for criminal trespass at Turtle Hill on Friday.

Police made the arrests at 3:15 p.m. at the hill, which is located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land. A number of arrests have been made on the hill as protesters have crossed the Cannonball River to get to a sacred burial site.

This brings the total number of protest-related arrests to 584 since Aug. 10.

Earlier that same day, at 2:45 a.m., about 50 protesters were at Backwater Bridge removing concertina wire from the law enforcement barricade on the north end of the bridge. Protesters disregarded orders from law enforcement to leave the bridge.

"Both actions were a reminder to Dakota Access and North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers that we're still here and that Turtle Island is still sacred," said protest organizer Joye Braun.

Braun said the corps is supposed to issue a statement to initiate an environmental impact statement for the 1,172-mile crude oil pipeline, but has yet to do so.

"We need that opinion written," she said. "We need that EIS to be initiated."

The bridge has been a point of contention since law enforcement erected concrete barriers across it, saying it was unsafe after being damaged by fires set during an October clash between police and protesters.

Tribal officials say the bridge's continued closure has caused economic harm to the tribe, has made travel more difficult for local residents and has delayed emergency response to the area.

Friday's action at the bridge "was a reminder, should an emergency happen, this is what's blocking us," Braun said.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation completed testing of the burned sections of the bridge on Dec. 22. Core samples were shipped to an out-of-state lab for structural damage analysis, with results still pending. It could be up to a month before repairs can be made. 

Officers eventually withdrew Friday and watched protesters continue to remove the wire. Several carried shields, knives, hatchets and chains, according to a statement by the Morton County Sheriff's Department. 

During this incident, the North Dakota Highway Patrol plane was allegedly targeted by a laser and spotlight from the protest camp.

The protesters remained at the bridge until 3:45 a.m. No arrests were made at the site.

Braun said she remained near the bridge with a warm vehicle to make sure no one got too cold. At the camp, people have been checking in on one another to make sure everyone stays warm as subzero temperatures continue.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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