Enbridge shuts down Bemidji meeting after confrontation with pipeline protesters

When Enbridge officials came to Bemidji Tuesday evening to answer questions about their proposed Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project, they expected a dozen landowners to show up.

Instead, they closed the meeting early after a confrontation with anti-pipeline protesters.

In a cell phone video taken at the meeting, Ojibwe activist Winona LaDuke stood in a crowd, shouting questions at Enbridge officials as a Bemidji Police officer asked her to leave.

"Are you going to bring tanks to northern Minnesota?" she said. "What's the answer to the question Enbridge?"

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Just 20 minutes after the meeting began in a small conference room at the Bemidji DoubleTree hotel, the dozen Enbridge officials decided the meeting was over and slipped out the back door.

"We were worried about safety," said Enbridge communications supervisor Shannon Gustafson.

Enbridge hopes to replace its 50-year-old, 1,031-mile Line 3 pipeline, which carries crude oil from Alberta across the northern third of Minnesota.

The new pipe would follow its current route from the Minnesota-North Dakota border to Clearbrook, Minn. From there, it would run along a more southern route to Superior, Wis.

The old line, Gustafson said, would be capped and monitored. An environmental impact statement is underway.

Oil pipeline projects have sparked a lot of controversy in recent years. Enbridge's proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline project was put on hold earlier this year.

And camps near the Dakota Access pipeline construction in North Dakota have drawn thousands of protesters.

Even so, Gustafson didn't expect Tuesday's meeting to be controversial. It was the seventh of eight planned meetings along the route of the proposed pipeline.

"We planned these informal meetings," she said. "We wanted to talk to people one on one about what to expect."

Roughly a dozen landowners on the direct route of the Line 3 project attended each of the first six meetings, Gustafson said. She thought Bemidji would be the same.

Instead, Winona Laduke said about 15 area landowners came to the meeting — followed by 150 local tribe members and anti-pipeline activists.

LaDuke, executive director of the Native American environmental group Honor the Earth, spent the last few months working with protesters at the Dakota Access pipeline. She said she recognized nearly 50 people at Tuesday's meeting from the camps at Standing Rock.

"Enbridge is acting like they had no part of the violence in North Dakota," she said. "Enbridge owns part of the Dakota Access line. I feel they have some accountability."

She worries the protests and conflict at Standing Rock will be born out again in northern Minnesota if Enbridge moves forward with the new Line 3 project.

The Line 3 environmental impact statement will wrap up this spring. Gustafson said a series of public meetings will be held then.