Charges being considered in I-5 protest over Dakota oil pipeline

Authorities will be talking with Whatcom County prosecutors to determine if charges can be filed in the wake of Saturday’s hourlong protest on Interstate 5, which resulted in a crash that caused at least one injury, the Washington State Patrol said Sunday.

Reaction across social media on Saturday and Sunday was mixed as some criticized and some praised protesters for causing what the state Department of Transportation said was a 4-mile backup on northbound I-5 near the Lakeway Drive offramp.

A rollover crash was blamed on the protest as a driver rounded a curve and saw the traffic backup too late to stop, the state patrol said. Five cars were involved in the wreck near the Chuckanut Drive exit, and at least one injury was reported, Trooper Heather Axtman said.

Comments about the protest at The Bellingham Herald’s Facebook page took several viewpoints.

“Endangering and inconveniencing people seems like a terrible way to get their message across and downright counter productive in getting others to embrace their cause,” wrote Travis Sowers.

“Protest failed, caused more people to oppose their cause than support it,” Gail Wiltse wrote.

“Agree or disagree with the merits of the protest, tough to conclude it wasn’t effective. Based on the fact that everyone is still talking/posting about it and the merits of the project, it seems it was a yuge (sic) success. Unfortunate that there was injury however. Hope the inattentive drivers and their passengers are OK,” wrote Mike Doran.

Some comments urged harsh penalties for the demonstrators, who carried signs protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, a 1,172-mile pipeline that would carry oil from North Dakota oil fields to a tank farm in southern Illinois.

Recent action by President Donald Trump’s administration allowed the project to go forward last week, after it effectively had been scuttled under President Barack Obama.

Pipeline foes used cars to slowly bring traffic to a stop just south of the Lakeway Drive exit about 12:30 p.m. Saturday. They formed a blockade, with several participants using chains and pipes to link hands, and left about 1:30 p.m.

Traffic piled up quickly, and the protest caught police by surprise, Axtman said. The blockade was otherwise peaceful, so authorities took time to assemble personnel with the intent of making arrests, she said.

“No immediate arrests were made,” Axtman said. “By the time we set up to go in, the protesters had already dispersed,” Axtman said.

Blocking a freeway is a gross misdemeanor, she said, and noted that state patrol command staff have the names of several protesters and would be consulting with Whatcom County prosecutors about possible charges.

The Bellingham Herald reporter Robert Mittendorf is a volunteer firefighter with South Whatcom Fire Authority, one of the agencies that responded to Saturday’s wreck. He was not directly involved in that response.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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