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Line 3 opponents accuse supporters of cheating ticket system at PUC hearings

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Line three proponents and opponents wait for the hearing to begin.
Line three proponents, front, and opponents, center, wait for the hearing to begin in the Public Utilities Commission building in Saint Paul, Minn. on June 19, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News

In social media chatter earlier this week, some opponents of Enbridge Energy's Line 3 pipeline accused project supporters of gaming the ticketing system for citizens wanting to observe hearings at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.   

On Friday, one pipeline opponent published an op-ed in the Star Tribune that included the allegation along with other complaints about the way PUC staff handled the final hearings in the Line 3 case. Deliberations and a PUC decision are expected next week. 

Tickets into the hearing room and overflow rooms at the commission were distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis, and both supporters and opponents lined up early in the morning for a chance to attend.   

Opponents of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline wave handkerchiefs in the air.
Opponents of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline wave blue handkerchiefs in the air while activist Winona LaDuke testifies against the pipeline at Public Utilities Commission hearing.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"The real scandal, however, is that for all our waiting, the ticketing system proved easily corruptible by malevolent actors," wrote Sara Suppan, a Minneapolis artist who has volunteered for MN350, a climate action group that opposes Line 3.  

Ellen Hadley, a pipeline opponent from Anoka, told MPR News she saw a dozen young people wearing Minnesotans for Line 3 T-shirts wait in line on Wednesday only to leave.

"It was raining, we had been standing in line for four hours, and they handed their tickets over to someone they called their boss," she said. "They're hired hands to deny the opportunity for the regular public to attend this event."  

In a written statement, advocacy group Minnesotans for Line 3 did not deny having people wait in line for tickets to the hearing.   

"Our team and supporters joined the many others at the meetings this week and we followed the same rules the PUC established that applied to everyone," said Bob Schoneberger, the group's founder.   

"The PUC encouraged people to come early each morning to get tickets to the rooms that could then be shared with others throughout each day. It was printed on every ticket that they could be transferred to someone else. Trying to create confusion about how the PUC managed the meeting is disappointing considering how long and thorough the entire process has been," Schoneberger wrote.

  The PUC's executive secretary, Dan Wolf, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The ticketing system was expected to work the same way for additional hearings starting Tuesday.   

Pipeline opponents said PUC staff should have tried harder to find a bigger venue for the hearings, and Suppan suggested equally distributing the seats inside the hearing room to supporters and opponents could have eliminated the need for people to stand in line. 

  While the hearings are webcast, Hadley said it's important to show the commissioners who is showing up. 

  "The commissioners sit and look out at the audience," she said.