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Line 3 pipeline construction in Wisconsin sparks protests, arrests

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An aerial view of the Enbridge pipeline under construction
An aerial view of the Enbridge pipeline under construction just south of Superior, Wis. on Aug. 8.
Bob King | Duluth News Tribune

Updated: Aug. 30, 6:26 a.m. | Posted: Aug. 29, 8:41 a.m.

Six self-described "water protectors" have now all been bailed out of a Wisconsin jail after being arrested Tuesday for protesting an oil pipeline. The protesters temporarily stopped construction of what's known as Line 3, the oil pipeline Enbridge Energy wants to build across northern Minnesota.

It would replace an existing 50-year-old line that's still under regulatory review in Minnesota, but the company has already started work across the border. 

Alexander Good-Cane-Milk of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota was among the protesters. He locked himself to a piece of heavy equipment just across the Minnesota border, south of Superior, Wis., according to his girlfriend Ta'Sina Sapa Win.

She said Good-Cane-Milk wanted to make a sacrifice. They met while protesting the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last year. They recently came to Minnesota to protest Line 3.

"Why did I want to come to Minnesota? Because our Ojibwe relatives helped stand for our fight against Dakota Access pipeline, and I'm going to stand with them in their fight," she said.

The activists streamed the event live on Facebook. 

An aerial view of the Enbridge pipeline under construction
An aerial view of the Enbridge pipeline under construction
Bob King | Duluth News Tribune

Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec said this is the third time the protesters have gone to Enbridge work sites in the past nine days. He says he warned them Monday they would be arrested if they trespassed a third time. 

"Less than 24 hours later, there they are, walking out on the worksites, chaining themselves to heavy equipment and what not, so we enforced the law and started arresting them," he said.

Three of those arrested are from Cloquet, one is from South Dakota, one from Saskatchewan, and one from Ann Arbor, Mich. 

All have been charged with misdemeanor trespassing charges. Some also were charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. 

They were released on bail Wednesday, on the condition that they not interfere with Enbridge employees and have no contact with the company's Line 3 project.

Ta'Sina Sapa Win said there are about 40 people staying at a protest camp that's been set up in Minnesota to fight the pipeline. And she expects more to come. 

"And we hope they come, because it's urgent," she said. "Enbridge is near done on the Wisconsin side. And then it's a long way. But we want to try to stop them at all costs, it doesn't matter if they get these permits approved or whatever, we want to stop them."

Enbridge has proposed a new 340-mile oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. It would replace an existing 50-year-old line that carries oil from Alberta, Canada, to the company's pipeline terminal in Superior. But the new line would be able to carry about twice as much oil. And the company wants to route much of it along a new corridor that opponents say poses too much of a risk to lakes, rivers and wild-rice waters.

The pipeline has not been approved yet in Minnesota. An environmental analysis of the project was just released. A final decision isn't expected until next April. 

But Enbridge already has permits to build the 14-mile section of the line in Wisconsin. Project director Paul Eberth said the company is about half way done with construction. He said the Wisconsin segment is independent of the proposed Minnesota line. 

"It doesn't rely on the work in Minnesota. So essentially oil will be shipped on the old line 3 through Minnesota, and on the new Line 3 through Wisconsin," he said.

The pipe for the project is being stored at a site near Carlton, Minn., and at other sites around the state. 

Tara Houska with the group Honor the Earth said that's a bullying tactic used by Enbridge. 

"They show up and drop their pipes off to try and convince people that this is going to happen, this is inevitable, there's no way stopping this," Houska said. "They very intentionally try everything they can to make the public believe that this is going to happen no matter what."

Eberth said Enbridge needed to make a decision early in the process to buy pipe because it's a long lead time item. And despite the escalating protests, Eberth said, he expects the Wisconsin section of the line to be operational by the end of the year.