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Last of N.D. pipeline protesters weigh their next move

James Macpherson and Blake Nicholson
Associated Press

Cannon Ball, N.D. — Most of the demonstrators who gathered on the North Dakota plains to oppose the Dakota Access oil pipeline declared victory and departed their snowy protest camp last month after the Army announced it would halt the project.

Now that President Donald Trump’s administration is pushing to complete the pipeline, the few hundred protesters still living on the wind-whipped prairie must decide what to do — accept the likely defeat and leave, or stay and keep fighting.

Some vow to remain, but Trump’s action seems unlikely to spark a major rejuvenation of the depleted camp of people who dubbed themselves “water protectors.”

Dan Hein, a 43-year-old Ohio man who has been living at the camp since September, was packing Tuesday to go home.

“I knew this was coming,” he said.

But Gena Neal, 43, who came from Oklahoma, said she was staying, even if protests remain subdued.

“We are proving action by just being here,” she said Wednesday as snow swirled around a dozen people.

Trump on Tuesday signed an executive action ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to quickly reconsider its Dec. 4 decision to stop the construction to allow time for more environmental study. Before the project can be finished, builders need permission to lay pipe under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir from which an American Indian tribe draws its drinking water.

The tribe at the center of the protests, the Standing Rock Sioux, says the pipeline threatens its water and cultural sites. Developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes that.

The Oahe segment is the last major piece of the four-state pipeline designed to move North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois.