By Terray Sylvester
CANNON BALL, N.D. (Reuters) - The number of protesters at a camp near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline dwindled to around a dozen on Thursday, with those still there defying a previous deadline set by authorities to vacate the Army-owned land.
Armored vehicles were parked near the camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and members of the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land the camp is on, began entering the site for cleanup efforts on Thursday morning.
The few protesters who remained were helping with cleanup efforts. Some buildings that were set on fire Wednesday ahead of the evacuation deadline were still smoldering, sending acrid smoke across the camp.
The remaining protesters said they were not afraid of another confrontation with law enforcement, which has clashed multiple times with demonstrators, resulting in more than 700 arrests.
"They have been pointing a gun at our head since day one, so the feeling of fear becomes pretty normal," said Jeremiah Barnes, 24, a protester from Oregon who has spent the past five months at the camp.
On Wednesday, authorities arrested 10 protesters on a highway outside the camp entrance before the officers retreated around nightfall.
Thousands poured into the protest camp starting in August to oppose the 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline that Native Americans and environmental activists say threatens the water resources and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
But a push by President Donald Trump since he took office in January to quickly complete the $3.8 billion project has dealt a series of setbacks to those wanting to see the pipeline stopped or redirected from passing under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River.
The Army Corps of Engineers and Republican Governor Doug Burgum set a Wednesday afternoon deadline to clear the camp.
Energy Transfer Partners LP said Thursday that 99 percent of the pipeline is complete after receiving all necessary federal authorizations earlier this month.
Those in opposition to the pipeline used social media to generate widespread support from Hollywood celebrities, military veterans and politicians. An analyst during Energy Transfer Partners' Thursday earnings call said the project was "probably a PR failure," for the Dallas-based company.
"There is no way we can defend ourselves there," Kelcy Warren, the chief executive officer of Energy Transfer Partners said during the call.
"There was a mistake on my part," he added. "I underestimated the power of social media. I didn't realize people could just say things that aren't true and freely do it, but they did."
(Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Additional reporting by Catherine Ngai in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)