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Police Soak Freezing Pipeline Protesters in Thousands of Gallons of Water

Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters and the Morton County, N.D., Sheriff’s Department squared off in a major battle over the weekend that featured tear gas, concussion grenades and a water cannon from law enforcement, and rocks, burning logs and slingshots from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe side of the clash.

Protesters were given a freezing bath of thousands of gallons of water when officers in riot gear fired a water cannon at the protest line with temperatures reported to be in the low-to-mid 20s.

The Sunday battle was the latest flare-up of violence between law enforcement and people trying to stop the 1,200-mile, four-state pipeline that is being built to carry oil from western North Dakota to Illinois.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, along with environmental protesters from across the nation, have been blocking construction on an 1,100-foot section of the pipeline project at the Missouri River and Lake Oahu since April. It is the final segment of DAPL that needs to be completed before the $3.8 billion project can be finished.

The tribe and its allies warn a leak from the pipeline could contaminate drinking water and construction could damage sacred sites.

The protest site had been relatively peaceful since late October. But Sunday night, police responded to what they called a “riot.”

“Law enforcement is currently involved in an ongoing riot on the Backwater Bridge, north of a protest camp in Morton County. Protesters in mass amounts, estimated to be around 400, are on the bridge and attempting to breach the bridge to go north on highway 1806. Protesters have started a dozen fires near the bridge,” read the sheriff’s department’s initial press release.

The sheriff’s department also said the protesters were “very aggressive” and were trying to “flank and attack the law enforcement line.”

A statement from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday morning after the six-hour-long melee said protesters had targeted officers with “rocks, burning logs and shots from slingshots.”

Backwater Bridge is close to where protesters had established a camp in April on private property owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline development company. The protesters were moved off the site in October.

Police then put up a barricade on what had been the protest site.

Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, told the Bismarck Tribune the police blockade prevented emergency services from reaching the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and a camp that was used as a staging ground for demonstrations.

The demonstrators decided the blockade had to come down.

"Folks have a right to be on a public road,” Goldtooth said. "It's absurd that people who've been trying to take down the barricade now have their lives at risk."