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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.

Around the Clock Pipeline Protest in Lee County

Jason Parrott
Jessica Reznicek, 35, of Des Moines is holding a 24/7 protest of the Dakota Access pipeline in Lee County

Jessica Reznicek, 35, of Des Moines arrived in Lee County about two weeks ago. Since then, she has made herself known to the region as a supporter of the Mississippi River and an opponent of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline.

Reznicek describes herself as a fully-engaged activist who's traveled the world for the past five years to fight for her beliefs. As part of those travels, she found herself standing side-by-side with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

“Recently, I joined the effort up in North Dakota at Sacred Stone and I stood with the natives there,” said Reznicek. “I kind of took that energy and decided what I was going to do with it when I brought it back to Iowa because the pipeline is cutting right through my home county.”

She said upon her return to the Hawkeye state, she researched the construction route.

The pipeline will run from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa before reaching central Illinois. The path through Iowa runs diagonal, from northwest to southeast.

Reznicek says she focused her efforts on those corners of the state, eventually deciding on Lee County because that is where the pipeline will cross the Mississippi River. She settled on a construction site along River Road north of Sandusky.

“Where I felt that my presence could be most useful and where this pipeline really needs to stop is at the boring process under the Mississippi River,” said Reznicek, adding that she quickly got to work.

“I did make a barricade across the entrance [to the construction site] not allowing any trucks in or out and I was pretty quickly arrested [by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office]. I stated to the officials that I came here in the spirit of love and compassion and respect and that I was willing to go to jail for this, personal sacrifice is definitely a component of what I am willing to risk to save our water supply.”

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Reznicek says people continue to bring her supplies and spend time in her encampment talking about everything under the sun.

Reznicek was charged with interference with official acts. She pled guilty and was released from jail about 24 hours later. Once freed, she returned to the site and was arrested a second time for the same reason.

The third time was the charm for Reznicek, who said she asked the sheriff’s deputy where she could remain without being arrested.

“I want to have a presence here and I want this thing to grow and I want people to learn about what I am doing and why I am here.”

The result is an encampment at 3333 River Road north of Sandusky. It consists of a couple of tents, several pop-up chairs, a canopy for shade, and a radio, which Reznicek was extremely happy to have donated to her this week.

Reznicek said she thought about trying to continue to block the entrance to the construction site, but decided it would be better to build the encampment so others can join in and the effort can grow. She said marches and acts of civil disobedience, though, are being planned for the future.

She said she’s always been a passionate person, adding that what is important to her, her family and future generations are natural resources.

“We are human beings and we are made of water,” said Reznicek. “We are water. Without water, we have no life and we have no future. When you sit down and ask yourself what the world would look like without water, I don’t see anything. It’s just darkness. Anything I do on a day-to-day basis does not take precedence over life and so we all really need to come together on this issue and many others.”

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Reznicek says the owners of the land where she is staying have told her they would mow the grass down if she needs more room for tents.

Reznicek said the support she has received has been amazing.

“I have never seen such loving support from a community for a campaign that I am seeing right now. I am joining a campaign that is long lasting. These people have been fighting tooth and nail against Dakota Access for two years.”

When asked if she could see the project stopping, she said she is an optimist who believes people will turn out in opposition, enough so that the project would have to stop. Reznicek said she even believes she can turn the employees of Dakota Access.

“If the security spends enough time with me out here, perhaps they will have a change of heart.”

Reznicek said she is letting the construction workers through. 

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