Investigation into 'suspicious device' in Carlton Co. finds 'non-explosive agent'

A “suspicious device” scare that forced the evacuation of 40 households from a small area on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota for about four hours on Friday afternoon turned out to be a “non-explosive agent,” the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office said Friday evening.

The sheriff's office called in a bomb squad to investigate a “suspicious device” that was seen in an area off Ditchbank Road, in Perch Lake Township near, the department said, a pipeline construction site.

According to a sheriff’s office Facebook post, a small region on the north end of Big Lake around Ditchbank, Mission and Cary roads was evacuated. Residents within a half-mile of the reported packages — about eight miles west of Cloquet — were told to leave their homes.

The sheriff’s office said the Perch Lake Town Hall had been set up as a shelter for evacuees, but as of 3:30 p.m., town officials said none had shown up. The sheriff’s office sent out a notification shortly after 5 p.m. saying it was safe for people to return to their homes.

In a statement, the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office said investigators were following up on several leads, and noted that state and federal laws prohibit “the placement of replica devices to cause fear or panic.”

"We will push for the maximum charging and penalties for everyone involved in these types of crimes," Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said.

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But the statement did not explain whether a replica — or any other — device had been found. The incident remains under investigation, and on Friday evening the sheriff’s office said they are not releasing the description of the device yet.

According to the sheriff’s office, the Fond du Lac Police Department initially responded to people protesting at a construction site for the Line 3 oil pipeline project around noon.

The sheriff’s office said protesters left the area about 40 minutes later. Enbridge Energy, the Canadian company building the pipeline, said workers saw a protester throw a “suspicious device” onto the construction site.

But people at Camp Migizi, one of several camps that opponents of the project have established along the pipeline’s new route, and less than a mile away from the construction site, objected to the characterization of events shared by the sheriff’s office and Enbridge.

They posted on Facebook that there were no explosives. “Law enforcement-induced hysteria is being used to manipulate the masses to curt resistance. The only immediate danger is the wellbeing of the rice, and the water.”

Pipeline opponents have fought the project for years because of its impacts on climate change, tribal treaty lands and the potential for spills into the more than 200 waterways Line 3 crosses, including areas where wild rice, sacred to the Ojibwe people, grows.

Enbridge says the project is driven by safety concerns. It’s replacing the existing Line 3, which was built in the 1960s and is corroding, requiring regular maintenance to keep operating.

More than 4,000 workers are currently building the pipeline, which stretches for more than 300 miles across northern Minnesota and runs through a stretch of the Fond du Lac reservation.

In recent weeks protests — which have been happening since the Line 3 project was first proposed — have stepped up. Some protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” have locked themselves to equipment and inside sections of pipeline in an effort to slow down construction until lawsuits that have been filed to try to block the project make their way through the courts.

The project went through more than six years of review, permitting and court-mandated revisions before construction finally began in December. Those delays have cost Enbridge. The company recently announced costs had risen by about $1 billion, raising the total cost of the Minnesota portion of the project to about $4 billion.

Enbridge operates several other pipelines across the same corridor in northern Minnesota that together carry nearly 3 million barrels of oil a day from Canada to a terminal in Superior, Wis. Line 3 is being built along a new path across the state, although it rejoins the existing pipelines when it crosses the Fond du Lac reservation.

The company said it shut down its pipelines in the area while the device was examined “out of an abundance of caution” Friday afternoon. The lines have since been restarted.