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A new pipeline could cut through the upper Midwest by late 2016. It would pump crude oil beneath thousands of acres of farmland and the Mississippi River. The proposed route runs through the Tri-State region, including Van Buren, Lee and Hancock Counties. State regulators are preparing to consider whether to grant the required permits for the project.Before that happens, Tri States Public Radio is taking a closer look at the pipeline and how it will impact local communities, economies, and the environment.

Pipeline Construction in IL, IA Could Begin Soon

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Dakota Access plans to begin construction in the next week or so on a new crude oil pipeline that would stretch from North Dakota to central Illinois. That's according to the firm hired by Lee County to keep tabs on the project on behalf of landowners.

Ryan Drenner with North Dakota-based Chippewa Resources has become a regular at the weekly meetings of the Lee County Board of Supervisors. During each post-meeting workshop, he provides an update on what he is seeing and hearing when it comes to the project.

In this week's report he told the board that Dakota Access plans to begin construction in Illinois on Monday, May 16, and in Iowa on Monday, May 23, if not sooner.

Drenner said crews from Dakota Access are re-surveying the proposed path of the pipeline through Lee County. The idea is to more clearly identify the line's route.

“The other stuff was temporary, kind of as an idea where the pipeline was to go,” said Drenner. “This is the finalized construction staking.”

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The proposed route through Iowa

Drenner told the Board that his firm is sending at least one more inspector to work with him to oversee construction. He said that process will be aided by the fact that Dakota Access is more regularly providing updates to him and other county inspectors.

It was about a week ago that the Iowa Utilities Board cited the company for not informing the county inspectors of its construction-related activities. The board said it could impose civil penalties for future violations.

There are a few portions of the proposed route where Dakota Access cannot begin construction. A couple landowners in Lee County, for example, have not reached an agreement with the company to allow it to access their land.

Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue the permits needed to cross some federal land, including beneath the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. There is an effort underway to block the issuance of those permits, and it is getting some celebrity support.

Leonardo DiCaprio used his verified Twitter account to call on his fans to sign a petition urging the Corps to deny Dakota Access the permits it needs. The petition had more than 81,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

Along with DiCaprio, several stars of the upcoming Justice League movie are doing the same on social media, urging their fans to sign the petition and oppose the pipeline. Those actors include Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, and Ray Fisher.

The four states through which the pipeline will travel (North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois) have signed off on the project.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.