DENVER (CBS4) – Officers are defending their decision to use water hoses on protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Protest organizers say 17 soaked protesters were taken to the hospital, many with hypothermia in the cold weather.
Protesters are trying to block the construction of the 1,100-mile oil pipeline. They say it threatens drinking water on the nearby American-Indian reservation. Some Coloradans are part of the protest, and one Colorado state lawmaker plans to join them.
The Dakota Access Pipeline stretches from oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois. It’s largely complete except for a section that runs under a Missouri River reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The tribe went to court to stop it, but lost. Protesters aren’t giving up and police are cracking down.
“It’s 10 degrees outside and they’re spraying people down with water,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.
After watching the standoff in North Dakota unfold for months, Salazar says he can no longer stand by.
“As an elected official, as a leader in the community, I want to make assessments for myself of what’s going on,” Salazar said.
As a civil rights attorney, Salazar says he’s troubled by what he calls human rights violations by law enforcement and has been in contact with the White House urging the president to intervene.
“The government can do something about this,” Salazar said. “I reject premise that anyone says the government can’t do anything about it.”
The federal government is withholding a final easement for now.
“I think both sides need to stand down. We should allow the Army Corps of Engineers do their study,” Salazar said.
The company’s CEO says the Dakota Access Pipeline parallels an existing pipeline that crosses the river at the same location. He says they’re taking every precaution to make it safe.
Salazar managed to kill legislation that would have allowed eminent domain rights for oil pipeline companies in Colorado. But he admits President-Elect Donald Trump will likely decide the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Salazar leaves Wednesday and will meet with tribal leaders and the Department of Justice.