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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.

Five Protesters Reject Pipeline Plea Deal; Ask for Trial

Jason Parrott
Five women from the Iowa City area are rejecting a plea agreement and will take their trespassing charges to court in Lee County.

Five women are refusing to accept a plea deal in connection with their arrest last fall for protesting the construction of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline through Lee County. Instead, they want to go to trial.

The women are each charged with one count of trespassing:

  • Ann Christienson, 80, of Iowa City
  • Mariam Kashia, 74, of North Liberty
  • Georgiane Perret, 72, of Iowa City
  • Anne Silander, 67, of Iowa City
  • Mary Beth Versgrove, 64, of Iowa City

Perret was arrested as part of a public protest on Sept. 17, 2016 while the remaining four were arrested on Oct. 1, 2016.
They hired attorney Rockne Cole of Iowa City to represent them.

“They are standing up for the people of Keokuk as well as the state of Iowa,” said Cole. “It is something that affects all of us. It is our common heritage, it’s our natural resources, and we want to make sure the public knows about what is going on in this particular part of Iowa.”

Cole appeared on behalf of his clients before Associate District Judge Gary Noneman at the south Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk Wednesday morning. He informed Noneman that three other clients were willing to accept the plea bargain offered by the county attorney’s office, but not the five women.

The county attorney’s office has offered to drop remaining trespassing charges against the pipeline protesters if the protesters agree to pay $60 in court costs. So far, more than 20 people have accepted the plea agreement.

Cole said his clients believe this is about more than a simple trespassing charge.

“We have a lot of concerns about whether the safety precautions have been taken,” said Cole. “We have concerns about possible pollution in the Mississippi River. We have concerns about the drinking water.”

Cole asked the court to allow his clients to be tried together, as opposed to individually.  Noneman told Cole and Assistant County Attorney Clinton Boddicker that he’s concerned that one of the defendants might say during open court that she feels differently from the rest and is not receiving a proper defense. Noneman said that would be difficult to resolve.

But instead of rejecting the request, Noneman scheduled individual hearings for each of the five women on May 22. He said that would allow the court to determine if the women are all willing to be tried together with Cole as their shared attorney.

Cole said he also planned to have exhibit and witness lists available for the hearing on May 22.

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