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Protesters, officers gird for pipeline ruling, but restarting construction may wait regardless

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Shannon James, 21, of the Navaho Nation inBig Mountain, Ariz., rides a horse Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, next to a protest camp near Cannon Ball, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Vernon Red Owl, a member of the Siseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe in South Dakota, raises his arm as a motorist honks a horn in support as more than 200 protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction gathered in Bismarck before marching across the Liberty Memorial Bridge to Mandan and converging for the Morton County Commission meeting on Tuesday evening.8-23-20163 / 3

NEAR CANNON BALL, N.D.—Construction won't immediately restart on a $3.8 billion pipeline if a judge rules against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe after a court hearing Wednesday, Aug. 24.

Dakota Access LLC, which temporarily stopped construction last week amid growing tribal protests near the pipeline's planned crossing of the Missouri River, will wait for law enforcement to determine it's safe to resume construction, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Wednesday morning.

That call will depend on how protesters react to the ruling, if it's favorable to Dakota Access, Kirchmeier said.

"We've done everything we possibly could to make sure this stays safe," he said.

Law enforcement officers met with tribal leaders and protest organizers Wednesday morning and had a "positive dialogue," the sheriff said. There are 40 officers on site near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, which has drawn 2,000-some protesters camped nearby, many from tribes across the region and the country. Fargo police officers and deputies from Cass and Grand Forks counties are among the agencies assisting Morton County deputies.

Standing Rock members oppose the river crossing, fearing a pipeline leak would contaminate their water supply and other sacred sites. The tribe is represented by the environmental law group Earthjustice in the lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over permits issued for the pipeline, which would cross the Missouri River a half-mile north of the reservation and be the largest oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields, moving 450,000 barrels per day to Patoka, Ill.

Aerial photograph taken Aug. 20, 2016 over protest camp on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. (Tom Stromme/Bismarck Tribune)Dakota Access temporarily stopped construction near the river crossing site as protests ramped up, leading to 29 arrests for trespassing or disorderly conduct.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., will consider Wednesday the tribe's request for an injunction that would effectively halt construction of the 1,172-mile pipeline. A lawyer for the tribe said the judge has indicated he will rule from the bench or shortly after the hearing.

Vic Camp, a 41-year-old from South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, said Tuesday that protesters will refrain from violence if the judge's ruling doesn't go their way.

"The only way violence will happen is if the cops provoke it and they attack us," he told Forum News Service, adding, "We have our women and we have our children. We have grandparents here."

The Cannonball River is an area considered sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. (Mike Nowatzki/Forum News Service)When asked what will happen if the judge denies the injunction and Dakota Access tries to resume construction, Camp said, "Then we'll start blockading."

"We'll do what we can with our bodies to keep the machines from coming in," he said.

A checkpoint on State Highway 1806 about 6 miles south of Mandan has been restricting traffic to the protest area for days, but an additional blockade was added Wednesday. Due to concerns about the safety of protesters who may march from the campsites to the construction site, authorities set up a second checkpoint farther south near Fort Rice and were preventing any vehicles from passing through.

Check back later for an update on this developing story.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.

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