Carmen Bitzer, left, and Sabrina Hill lead a march through Port Townsend on Friday in solidarity with a march in Washington, D.C., to protest the Dakota Access pipeline. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend group objects to Dakota Access pipeline

PORT TOWNSEND — Just over 30 people turned out to march through Port Townsend in solidarity with protesters who marched in Washington, D.C., to protest the Dakota Access pipeline.

Friday’s march through uptown and downtown Port Townsend was organized by Carmen Bitzer and Sabrina Hill, activists who have headed the Jefferson County Stand with Standing Rock group.

“I was really disgusted when our president got on TV and said he didn’t know these pipelines were controversial,” Bitzer said.

“Now more than ever, we have to have unity, especially when we have an administration that’s going to tear this country apart.”

In December, the Obama administration halted the construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline after month of clashes between police and protesters in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

That decision was overturned in January by President Donald Trump, which sparked a new wave of protests.

On Friday, hundreds rallied outside the White House and erected a teepee in front of Trump’s new Washington D.C. hotel in a bid by Native Americans to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Organizers of the Port Townsend march spoke at Pope Marine Park to urge those who attended to make their voices heard by their elected representatives.

“In Washington state, we at least have representatives that are trying to be on our side,” said Dayna Neely, a precinct committee officer for the Jefferson County Democrats and a member of the Jefferson County Progressives.

“Most of this is us getting together and telling our representatives what we want. We have to speak up. If we stay silent, they have no idea what we want.”

Neely handed out papers with a list of Washington state House bills and House joint resolutions that tackle environmental issues and money in politics and are supported by the Jefferson County Stand with Standing Rock group.

Those bills included HB 1646/SB 5509, dealing with jobs and clean energy; HB 1611/SB 5462, concerning crude oil; and HB 1663/SB 5501, which aims to protect communities from pollution. Neely pointed out that residents can track bill progress at www.leg.wa.gov.

“Our input guides them, so call your representatives,” Neely said.

Bitzer and Hill led the march from the firehouse on Lawrence Street through uptown, down the stairs to Haller Fountain before ending at Pope Marine Park on Water Street. The park was the site of another protest against the pipeline in September.

While the 1,200-mile pipeline doesn’t cross onto the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, it has been hotly contested by tribal members and environmental activists since it extends under the Missouri River, which is a source of clean water for the Sioux and others downstream.

Tribal members also have objected that the pipeline path is through sacred land.

Since Trump’s executive order in January, the Standing Rock Sioux, backed by hundred of other tribes, have attempted to halt construction through the courts.

Last week, a federal judge denied a request to halt the construction of the pipeline. According to The Associated Press, this means the pipeline could be completed and pumping 570,000 barrels of crude oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast as early as this week.

“They are drilling and this is moving forward,” Neely said. “They’re trying to fight this in the courts, and that’s where we are.”

Bitzer said the fight to stop the pipeline and others like it isn’t over, but it’s also not going to be easy.

“Anything that has to do with Native Americans having relevance in this society is going to be a fight,” Bitzer said.

________

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.