Tests performed to test stability of Backwater Bridge

Published: Dec. 22, 2016 at 2:38 PM CST
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The Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806 has been closed for nearly two months. Thursday, the North Dakota Department of Transportation completed testing of the bridge to possibly re-open it.

The tests were completed Thursday, but the results may not be available as soon as some hope.

These engineers are looking for answers. They're unsure if the Backwater Bridge is safe to drive on.

"As you can see, with only two inches between a vehicle fire and your concrete beams, it could easily have some damage," says John Ketterling, DOT Bridge Engineer.

Law enforcement says the fires were started by protesters on October 27, while police were removing them from private property.

Some tribal leaders don't dispute that claim.

"That was a car started, and it was started by the, by the water protectors," says Ron His Horse His Thunder.

But the former tribal chairman says he thinks DAPL employees started other car fires as well.

The tests are being expedited, but they could still take time.

"We're going to put a rush on it as much as we can. It may take up to 30 days to get those results. We are going to have a petrographic analysis done on it, and once we have the results back we'll have to, our engineers will have to, look at it and see what the best way going forward is," says Ketterling.

The bridge and Highway 1806 have been closed nearly two months. Protesters have complained that the state has been dragging its feet on the issue. Law enforcement says it was a safety issue.

"Obviously everyone doing their work today wants to make sure they feel safe, and so in working with BIA today we were able to provide a safe environment," says Col. Mike Gerherdt, Superintendent ND Highway Patrol.

Pending the results of the test, repairs may be necessary. The tribes fear those may take months.

"If the bridge needs to be tore apart, we're talking by the end of next summer at the earliest that this could be opened back up," says His Horse.

The Department of Transportation declined to answer questions about the length of potential repairs

The bridge was initially inspected on November 1, and it was determined additional testing would be needed. Those tests were not conducted until today because of safety concerns due to protest activity.

Law enforcement coordinated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide security for the testing.