Since October, the Backwater Bridge just outside of the Sacred Stones protest camp near Cannon Ball, N.D. has been a flash point between protesters and police. It was where police used tear gas and fire hoses to put out blazes and repel protesters just before Thanksgiving and has been closed to traffic far longer. The bridge itself has been closed since late October, when protesters blocked it by burning cars, potentially causing structural damage. On Thursday, though, it became a symbol of reconciliation as the Standing Rock tribal government and the state of North Dakota cooperated to inspect the bridge in preparation for reopening it to traffic.
Before the bridge can be reopened to traffic, the state needs to know that the burning cars did not weaken the concrete supporting the bridge. Officials from the North Dakota Department of Transportation took concrete samples on Thursday. These will be sent to an out of state lab specializing in evaluating the integrity of concrete exposed to high temperatures. Results are expected back in 30 days.
Protesters had argued that the closure of the bridge forced emergency services to reroute and needlessly lengthened the time it took to get back to Bismarck. State transportation officials argued that the bridge could not be reopened without passing an inspection and that they could not send inspectors until they knew that their workers would be safe.
The inspection was the result of a meeting between out-going Governor Jack Dalrymple and Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault, who spoke before Dalrymple left office last week.
“Today was an example of how we can collaborate to restore relationships and peace in North Dakota,” Archambault and current North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said in a joint statement. “The cooperation between state, local and tribal governments illustrated the desire on all sides for a phased reopening of the bridge and resumption of normal traffic and commerce, as well as access to vital human services. As we await the test results, we urge everyone to take this time to enjoy the holidays with their families and loved ones, and continue to remain off the Backwater Bridge.”
Although the DAPL protests continue, Archambault has asked the protesters to return home while they await the new Trump administration and a forthcoming Army Corps of Engineers decision. While the protest camps have diminished with the falling temperatures, hundreds of people are still camped out.