State agencies, citizens ask for alternatives to Enbridge Sandpiper route

State regulators are set to decide Thursday whether to consider alternatives to the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline route that Enbridge wants to build across northern Minnesota.

Enbridge has argued the 610-mile Sandpiper pipeline is needed to bring growing supplies of North Dakota crude oil to refineries, but the company's proposed route for the pipeline has run into opposition from both state officials and citizen groups.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has said other routes as well as alternatives to the project should be considered, and MPCA officials disagree with the state Department of Commerce on how the route question should be handled.

Friends of the Headwaters is among the citizen groups asking the state Public Utilities Commission to consider alternative routes, and has submitted four different alternatives. The alternatives seek to follow existing energy corridors, president Richard Smith said.

"This is the first time in probably three decades that a pipeline company is wanting to build an entirely new energy corridor," he said.

Smith said Enbridge's proposed route travels near the headwaters of the Mississippi River and through lake country, important wild rice areas and a key aquifer used by potato farmers and the city of Park Rapids.

The PUC will hear testimony and could decide whether to consider alternative routes, but a decision on whether the pipeline should be built at all will come later.

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