Hotline set up to help farmers affected by pipeline protests

By Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

North Dakota's Agriculture Department has set up a hotline to help farmers and ranchers south of the Bismarck-Mandan area who've been affected by protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Excavators are in place as work resumed Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, on the four-state Dakota Access pipeline near St. Anthony, N.D. A federal appeals court ruling on Sunday cleared the way for work to resume on private land in North Dakota that's near a camp where thousands of protesters supporting tribal rights have gathered for months. (AP Photo/ Blake Nicholson)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Agriculture Department has set up a hotline to help farmers and ranchers south of the Bismarck-Mandan area who've been affected by protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Many producers need to finish seasonal work before winter sets in, and they're having problems trying to find willing truck drivers and custom silage-chopping services, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said Wednesday.

"We are appealing to those who can provide these services to contact the hotline," he said.

The protests have drawn thousands of people to the area where Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is trying to wrap up construction on the $3.8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. Opponents of the pipeline worry about potential impacts to drinking water on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and further downstream, as well as destruction of cultural artifacts.

But a protest camp spokesman says the notion that protesters are harassing farmers or farm workers is "not true."

"(W)e've had quite a few farmers and ranchers stop by the camp to show their support and thank us for taking a stand against Big Oil," spokesman Cody Hall said.

Rancher Matthew Rebenitsch told The Associated Press earlier this month that many people are locking their doors and carrying guns. And Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier has said his office has received reports of people in rural areas being stopped on roads and intimidated, a claim Hall denied.

Goehring said the Farm/Ranch Emergency Assistance Hotline (701-425-8454) is aimed at helping producers and those looking for work to connect with one another. Department employees will answer calls weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and callers can leave messages on evenings and weekends.

Goehring also said the Morton County Sheriff's Department will work to "assist in providing safe passage" to farmers who need it in the course of their fall work.

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