June 27–Enbridge Energy’s preferred Line 3 oil pipeline route, which they have touted as having “the least impact on Tribes and their cultural resources,” faced opposition by lawyers representing Native American bands Tuesday during the third day of hearings at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in St. Paul.
The Calgary-based company has proposed to build the 340-mile Line 3 across the state — from the North Dakota Border to Wisconsin Border — to carry oil between Alberta and the company’s terminal in Superior, but they first need the PUC to grant it a certificate of need and route permit first. The project would replace an existing Line 3 pipeline that passes through several Native American reservations in Minnesota, but the new project has faced strong opposition from environmentalists and Native Americans.
Although Enbridge’s preferred route does not directly pass through any reservations, it runs within 4 miles, and through the watershed, of Big Sandy Lake — the site of the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850, where at least 400 Anishinaabe people died.
Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa attorney Seth Bichler and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe attorney David Zoll, at the urging of commissioner John Tuma, explained that the Lake Superior Chippewa would travel to Madeline Island for annuity payments promised to them in treaties, but in an effort to force Native Americans west, U.S. President Zachary Taylor changed the annuity payment location to Sandy Lake. The President hoped they would be trapped with no supplies in the harsh winter and resettle there instead of going back home.
More than 150 people died at the lake and at least 250 died on the trip home.
“Routing along the (applicant’s prefered route), through the Sandy Lake area, is particularly harmful because it would reopen those historic wounds and the cultural harm that was done,” Zoll said.
Bichler described the route as “absurd” to even come near the lake.
“When you look at Big Sandy Lake, it’s like a combination of the Garden of Eden — the reason Ojibway are here, where the food grows on water–and some sort of concentration camp — where their ultimate destruction was plotted,” Bichler said.
Tuma said he would rather see the alternative route head further north, avoid Big Sandy Lake, then cut through the Fond du Lac reservation where existing Enbridge pipelines travel.
Tuma said that route “minus the impact of going through Fond du Lac, is, to me, far superior in so many ways” and added that the decision was a “struggle” faced by the commission.
Bands, however, have the power to block any pipeline proposed through a reservation, but Bichler declined to comment on Fond du Lac’s position, adding that more information on the matter would be available during today’s hearings.
As for Enbridge, which has maintained since last year their preferred route is the only on they are examining, a spokesman said the company would not entertain any hypotheticals.
Pipeline removal plan questioned
Earlier this month, Enbridge committed to removing old Line 3 pipes if a landowner wants them gone. In a timeline offered by Enbridge, the company would have 90 days after the new line is put into service to purge oil from the old route and, if landowners request, another year to remove the old pipeline from their property.
Previously, the company had planned on leaving the pipeline in the ground after it went out of service and was cleaned, as is standard in the industry.
But Enbridge does not expect many landowners to take them up on the offer as it would mean more construction and disruption, the company argues.
Enbridge attorney Christina Brusven said during Tuesday’s hearing that only a “handful” of landowners had directly contacted Enbridge about pipeline removal while more had expressed interested in the official public comment period.
Since Enbridge’s pipeline removal plan is, as it sits now, an opt-in plan, some commissioners expressed that the timeline could confuse landowners, forcing them to miss the deadlines.
Commission vice-chair Dan Lipschultz entertained the idea of requiring the company to remove all of the old Line 3, expect if the landowner opts out.
But both have their problems, he later said,
“They both sound pretty bad to me,” Lipschultz said of the removal options.
For White Earth attorney Joe Plummer, the lengthy discussion on the abandonment of the old pipeline was important to ensure additional pipelines are not left underground once they are decommissioned.
“It’s important that we get it out of the precedent,” Plummer said.
Hearings and deliberations are scheduled for today and will likely be extended into Thursday and Friday. The PUC is expected to vote on certificate of need and route permit this week.
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