An eight-day occupation of one of the two spots in northern Minnesota where the Line 3 oil pipeline will cross underneath the Mississippi River ended peacefully on Monday.
A group of about 100 people who oppose the pipeline that is primed to be laid here this summer had pitched tents, built compost toilets and established a camp along the timber-mat boardwalk that extends to the riverbanks.
After Canadian company Enbridge Energy sent a formal letter asking Clearwater County Sheriff Darin Halverson to evict the campers, Halverson notified the campers that they had the day on Monday to pack up and leave.
Most did, marching down the boardwalk and out of the gate without incident around 5 p.m. But about 50 opponents of the pipeline stayed, choosing to receive a citation for misdemeanor trespassing that they hope to fight in court. One person wanted to be arrested and was taken to jail, Halverson said.
The leaders of the Fire Light Camp, Dawn Goodwin and Nancy Beaulieu, are the founders of the RISE Coalition — Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging with our Allies — formed, in part, in opposition to Line 3.
“I just want to reassure you that we held a lot of good ground,” Beaulieu told the pipeline opponents, who call themselves water protectors. “Our story is being heard loud and clear. And when we do an exit today, it is not a surrender.”
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The 340-mile crude oil replacement pipeline has been contentious since it was first introduced in 2014. Enbridge says the existing Line 3 needs to be replaced because it was built in the 1960s and is deteriorating.
Opponents have established several resistance camps along the northern Minnesota route, and protests have ramped up into the summer as the pace of construction grows and the project nears its end-of-year finish line.
Last week, thousands of opponents gathered just outside the White Earth Reservation for the Indigenous-led Treaty People Gathering, meant to kick off a summer of resistance.
While those protests involved marches and nonviolent civil disobedience, the Mississippi River camp was more of a camp-like vigil, marked by spiritual ceremonies, songs and shared meals.
Fire Light Camp was established on the easement, a wooden path that workers suspended above the wetland as a way to get heavy equipment toward the river, so they can bore down deep enough to thread a pipeline under the riverbed.
Taysha Martineau, of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, led a group down to the river on Monday, where they stood in the cool water and sang a spiritual song.
“If you leave here today, we haven’t lost a single thing,” Martineau told the group. “We are, physically, just by being here, changing how the world sees what a water protector is. We're reminding them that we come in prayer, that we come with peace and love in our hearts.”
Tess Athena and Brandon Jonutz came from California to join the Line 3 protest and stayed at Fire Light Camp all week.
“It’s a very, very important stand that we have to take to protect our waters, to stand on behalf of Indigenous rights on treaty land,” said Athena, who’s originally from South Africa. “They actually need non-Native people to stand with them so that they can amplify their voices so that their cause can be seen and heard by the courts and by the greater nation.”
Enbridge agreed to allow the campers to remain on the pipeline easement for four days to conduct a spiritual ceremony. But on Saturday, the company sent a letter to the sheriff, saying the group was trespassing, causing significant damage to property and equipment, interfering with construction and endangering the health and safety of construction workers.
Camp leaders denied those allegations, saying there was no damage to property or equipment and no interference with construction. There were no visible signs of destruction on Monday.
In a statement, Enbridge said it respects the rights of individuals to protest peacefully and legally and has demonstrated ongoing respect for tribal sovereignty.
Before they left Monday, the campers got word that the Minnesota Court of Appeals had issued a decision in one of several legal challenges to the Line 3 project. The appeals court affirmed state utility regulators’ approval of the replacement pipeline, which follows a different route than the current Line 3.
Opponents said they’ll continue to fight the project, which they believe exacerbates climate change, threatens tribal treaty rights and puts Minnesota’s rivers, lakes and wetlands at risk from oil spills or leaks.
“It is hard news,” Akilah Sanders-Reed, a climate activist, told the campers after she announced the court’s decision to the group. “I know that folks have put a lot into continuing this fight, and it doesn’t stop here.”
Line 3 opponents are also challenging the state and federal water permits issued for the project. And they want President Joe Biden to step in and halt the project.
Enbridge expects to complete the $4 billion pipeline by the end of this year.