NEAR CANNON BALL, N.D. - Dakota Access Pipeline opponents prepared Thursday to continue camping near the Missouri and Cannonball rivers while legal groups said they're looking for new ways to challenge the pipeline.
Honor The Earth, an environmental rights group that opposed Enbridge's Sandpiper Pipeline in Minnesota, is now focusing efforts on the Dakota Access Pipeline and looking for potential legal challenges to file, said Tara Houska, national campaigns director.
Houska said there could be more complaints filed in addition to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's federal court case to make sure "that we are defending against the project in every way that we possibly can."
"This is a very serious issue and it's one that can be challenged in a number of different ways," said Houska, one of several attorneys at the camp Thursday.
Six human rights observers from Amnesty International USA visited the Dakota Access opposition Thursday to monitor any police interaction with the public and make sure people's rights to peacefully protest were being respected, said Tarah Demant, senior director.
Amnesty International is concerned about whether the traffic barricade on State Highway 1806 north of the demonstration site is necessary for safety or whether it's designed to deter protesters, Demant said.
The group sent letters to law enforcement and the governor's office and had not received a response Thursday, Demant said.
The traffic control point will remain until the sheriff is assured there will be no people on the roadway or vehicles parked along the side of the road, said Donnell Preskey, spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff's Office. On Wednesday, a North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper observed a vehicle parked in the middle of the road near the construction site, Preskey said.
Construction on the pipeline continued to be suspended near the protest site Thursday, but it's unclear what the company's plans are.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said authorities have asked Dakota Access, along with the pipeline opponents, to keep the department informed of their plans.
"My top priority is to keep all entities moving forward in a peaceful and lawful manner," he said.
However, Kirchmeier said the sheriff's office has no authority to prevent Dakota Access from resuming construction.
"They have the legal authority granted by permits and easements to be there and continue with their oil pipeline project," Kirchmeier said in a statement.
Dakota Access did not respond to media inquiries Wednesday or Thursday. Construction has continued on other areas of the pipeline, which will transport 450,000 barrels per day from North Dakota to Patoka, Ill., and is scheduled to be in service by the end of the year.
Camp organizers developed a supply list and worked on logistics to sustain the camp for at least two weeks while pipeline opponents wait for a federal judge to rule on the tribe's request for an injunction. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, arguing the agency failed to properly consult with the tribe before issuing a permit for the Missouri River crossing.
The size of the camp appeared similar in size to Wednesday, with estimates of 1,500 to 2,000 people. Organizers said they expect numbers to grow this weekend, and calls went out for more blankets, warmer tents and additional firewood.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II greeted the camp and said he continues to hear from tribal nations from all over who are sending supplies, supporters and prayers.
"With unity, there are a lot of things we can overcome," said Archambault, noting that 120 tribal nations have sent letters of support.
A group of 31 environmental, tribal and landowners' rights organizations sent a letter to President Obama Thursday asking him to repeal some of the permits issued for Dakota Access by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The group asked that the pipeline be fully evaluated and held to the same standard as the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Also Thursday, the Williston chapter of the American Petroleum Institute pushed its members to sign a letter of support for the pipeline.
"We can't let the protesters have the only voice," wrote Ken Callahan, the group's president.