Judge issues restraining order against Minnesota sheriff in ongoing dispute with Line 3 protesters

A judge has granted Line 3 protesters' request for a temporary restraining order against officials in northern Minnesota's Hubbard County, amid an ongoing dispute over access to property used as a protest camp.

District Court Judge Jana Austad issued the order on Friday against Hubbard County and specifically Sheriff Cory Aukes and Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier, barring authorities from "barricading, obstructing, or otherwise interfering with access to the property" near Menahga, Minn., that's being used by Line 3 opponents.

"Plaintiffs allege that the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department has been blockading and restricting access to the property in such a way as to make it practically impossible for the property owner, assignees and guests to enjoy the property. This is substantial violation of plaintiffs’ right to the use and enjoyment of the property," Austad wrote in granting the order, continuing: "The alleged conduct of the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department could also, if established, be a deprivation of constitutional rights."

Aukes told the Star Tribune that he'll appeal the temporary restraining order.

The request for a temporary restraining order accompanied a civil complaint filed July 16 by, among other plaintiffs, Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke who is executive director of the group Honor the Earth.

According to the complaint, LaDuke acquired the property near Menahga in 2018 and was granted continued use of a long-standing driveway easement across a strip of county-owned land; the parcel has no other access.

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The property’s title was transferred to a different organization last November, and the county contends the easement is no longer valid. LaDuke and the other plaintiffs say the easement “as approved by the County Board is unrestricted or perpetual in duration, with no provisions for its extinguishment or reversion except for ‘non-use.’ ”

The property has been in use most recently “as a location for members of the Anishinaabe peoples to engage in cultural and spiritual practices, as well as a central organizing point for people who are opposed to the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline,” the complaint states.

Earlier this summer Hubbard County officials issued a notice — a copy of which is included with the civil complaint — that there is "no easement for the current landowner," and that the driveway is "not open to vehicular traffic" and would be "barricaded" starting June 28.

The plaintiffs say the sheriff's office has since made multiple arrests of people using the easement, and also allege that at times authorities have prevented people from entering or leaving the property. In the complaint they call it an "overt political blockade using the power of the State to disrupt and penalize opposition to the building and expansion of the Enbridge pipeline."

Aukes told the Star Tribune that authorities haven’t blocked access but have cited drivers using the easement, claiming that people have been leaving the camp to commit crimes related to their opposition to Line 3.

In the order issued Friday, Austad writes that “defendants seem to assert the restrictions on the ability of plaintiffs and guests to use the property is a police action justified by issues related to Line 3 protests. If that is accurate there are lawful means of police action by warrant. This action is about an easement. There is no showing that the law is being broken on the disputed easement.”

The order issued Friday does not prevent authorities from interfering with access to the property or stopping drivers to respond to "criminal conduct" or "pursuant to a valid warrant."

It’ll remain in effect “until further order of the court” as the civil suit proceeds. LaDuke and the other plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that the property has an easement for the driveway. They're also seeking a permanent injunction barring county officials from interfering with access to the property, and a declaration that citations issued in connection with the easement dispute are "null and void."

The 1,097-mile Line 3 is part of an Enbridge network that moves oil from fields in Canada's Alberta province to refineries in southern Ontario and the U.S. Midwest. It crosses the far northeastern tip of North Dakota, then cuts through northern Minnesota to a terminal at Superior, Wis.

The line carries nearly 16.4 million gallons of oil used in fuels and other products.

Enbridge says the original 1960s pipe is deteriorating and carrying about half its capacity. The company is replacing it with pipe made of stronger steel that it says would enable resumption of a normal flow — about 32 million gallons daily.

Work is finished in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin and 60 percent complete in Minnesota, where 337 miles of new pipe is being laid. The replacement project re-routes the pipeline in some places.

Opponents contend the project endangers waterways, violates Indigenous treaty rights and abets dependence on fossil fuels that will further overheat the planet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.