NEAR CANNON BALL, N.D.-Despite a clash on Saturday between opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and private security officers hired for protection along the construction route, protesters say they're still optimistic the project can be stopped by continued opposition and through the courts.
Hundreds milled around the protest camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation on a cool Monday, contrasting the gloomy weather with continued prayers, mingling with each other and enjoying donated food being cooked.
With the weather beginning to change and a ruling coming by Friday on an injunction sought by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., pipeline opponents see their actions as just beginning.
"I think this has essentially become ground zero for the climate (change) fight," Bill Kitchen of Johnstown, N.Y., said. "What happens if the courts rule in the company's favor? You've got all these people that aren't ready to give up and get out."
Kitchen, who works part-time for the Portland, Maine-based Biodiversity Research Institute and also participates in environmental activism, said the growing visibility of the protests will only help the cause.
If completed on schedule before the end of the year, the Dakota Access Pipeline would transport up to 450,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude with a future maximum capacity of 570,000 barrels per day.
The project originates in North Dakota and ends in Illinois. The pipeline has an overall cost of $3.78 billion.
A section of the pipeline will be bored under the Missouri River and run less than a mile from the tribe's reservation boundary.
Tribal leaders and groups have been staging protests over the pipeline for more than a month, citing concerns over potential contamination of the Missouri River if the pipeline were to rupture. Concerns over disturbing cultural sites have also loomed large.
Kitchen said the protest is an extension of the Keystone XL fight; the pipeline took years of review and required a State Department review because it would have crossed the U.S. and Canadian border. The project was eventually shelved.
"They need to take this right to Obama's doorstep," Kitchen said, adding he's optimistic the pipeline won't be completely built.
He believes Saturday's clash between approximately 300 protesters and 14 private security officers at a work site shouldn't be a stain on the protest effort.
Tribal officials said cultural sites had been recently discovered in an area where Dakota Access, LLC, a partner of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, had begun work on Saturday.
This prompted a march by protesters, who confronted and assaulted several security officers, according to a Morton County Sheriff's Department release. Three security officers were injured.
No arrests have yet been made but the incident is under investigation.
"To go plowing through those sites ... it's not going to look good for the company," Kitchen said.
Tonya Hertel, of Mobridge, S.D., agreed.
"I feel that the federal judge made the right decision by waiting," Hertel said, adding that it allowed both sides to be fairly heard before weighing in. "We feel we're going to win this."
Hertel had arrived to visit the camp and drop off donations to the protesters including clothing. She says she's tried to visit at least once a week to provide whatever might be useful for the hundreds that are camping out from dozens of tribes from across the country as they settle in for the long haul.
She declined to speculate on whether or not the court will rule in their favor this week and how protesters might react.
"I think the tribes are doing a great job," Hertel said. "I feel people are hearing us."