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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.

Lee County Drops More Pipeline Protest Charges

Jason Parrott
Hundreds of people protested the construction of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline through Lee County last fall.

The Lee County Attorney's Office has dropped the criminal charges against five more people arrested last fall for protesting construction of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline.

The quintet of women from the Iowa City area refused to accept a plea deal offered by the county in March. They were each charged with one count of misdemeanor trespassing in connection with protests either Sept. 17, 2016 or Oct. 1, 2016.

They had hired the same attorney in the hopes of having their cases tried together in front of a jury but County Attorney Clinton Boddicker filed to dismiss the charges three days prior to their hearing. He said he did not have enough evidence to proceed with a prosecution.

“There were a lot of people out at the protest site that particular day,” said Boddicker. “We didn’t really have any police reports or anything to go off of and so we decided to dismiss those five cases.”

Boddicker said it did not help that Dakota Access refused to participate in the prosecution as well.

“We had contacted the pipeline company about two months ago,” said Boddicker. “It had no interest in coming back to Lee County to serve as witnesses and we had no ability to compel testimony because these were simple misdemeanors.”

Boddicker said he consulted with the sheriff’s office prior to making the decision to dismiss these charges. Boddicker is confident the county will be better prepared for such an event in the future.

“I think since this has all happened, [the sheriff’s office has] instituted procedures so this would not happen again,” said Boddicker. “[Deputies] now have body cameras… which would have helped us be able to sort out the mess.”

The attorney for the five women did not respond to a request for comment on the dismissals. He previously told Tri States Public Radio that they planned to fight the charges on behalf of the people of Keokuk and the state of Iowa against the possible pollution of the Mississippi River.

Boddicker said with these dismissals, all that remains are a couple of trials scheduled for late summer. He said in those cases there is much more evidence available against the people charged with trespassing and interference with official acts.

Boddicker said there are also warrants out for the arrest of a couple people who skipped required court hearings.

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