Leech Lake Band Opposes Option to Keep Line 3 Pipeline in the Same Trench

Enbridge’s current Line 3 route (blue) and Enbridge’s preferred route (red).

Part I of a series looking at Ojibwe Band response to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report and recommendations on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Native American nations and their community members are not monolithic in their opinions. That fact becomes apparent when reading the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s response to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s recommendations on the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline. According to Leech Lake’s May 9 letter:

The [Leech Lake] Band is different than the White Earth, Red Lake, Mille Lacs, and Fond du Lac Bands. The [Judge’s] Report fundamentally fails to understand this. The Band is again trying to make that clear so that the [Public Utilities] Commission will not miss the point, as well.

Two Kinds of Treaty Rights

The Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline proposal affects two kinds of treaty rights:

First, each of the Ojibwe bands has treaty rights to operate as a sovereign government and control land. (The colonial term is “reservation.”) Second, they have treaty rights with the cumbersome title: “usufructuary rights.” This refers to rights to hunt, fish and gather on “ceded territory,” that is, lands outside of reservation boundaries. (These hunting and gathering rights are complicated.  More on this in a later blog.)

What is important from Leech Lake’s perspective is that Line 3 crosses its sovereign lands. (In fact, Line 3 runs in Enbridge’s Mainline Corridor which has a total of six pipelines. These pipelines also cross the Fond du Lac Reservation. Leech Lake and Fond du Lac are two of the seven sovereign Ojibwe Bands in Minnesota.)

Enbridge, a Canadian energy transportation company, has proposed a 1,000+ mile crude oil pipeline from Alberta to Superior Wisc., crossing northern Minnesota. It wants to reroute Line 3 through part of Minnesota, opening a brand new pipeline corridor to avoid Leech Lake and Fond du Lac lands. That route would still cross lands where various Ojibwe Bands have reserved “usufructuary” rights to hunt, fish and gather.

In-Trench Replacement Proposed

O’Reilly’s recommendations say if a pipeline is to be built, the best option is to remove the current Line 3 and rebuild in the same trench. She argues that plan has the environmental benefits of removing the old, decaying pipeline, and avoiding the environmental damage of opening a new pipeline corridor. The plan also has the economic benefit of creating jobs to remove the old pipeline, a project estimated to cost $1.2 billion.

Writing for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, attorney Grace Elliott called O’Reilly’s plan “a terrible choice.”

Any suggestion of negotiation on in-trench replacement of Line 3 is offensive to the Band, whose sovereign government has legislatively passed an ordinance/resolution stating its official position against in-trench replacement. …

The Band does not accept the Report’s assumption that the Project’s impacts on off-reservation natural resources would have a greater negative socioeconomic impact on the tribal community than in-trench replacement of the pipelines across reservation lands.

Enbridge’s Mainline Corridor easements expire in 2029. Leech Lake’s letter said the Band won’t renew the agreement in 2029 “because it wants the pipelines removed as soon as possible.”

The Leech Lake Band said the impact of a new Line 3 “would be more favorable if the Commission approved a route outside the Reservation.”

The Band’s interests in this Project cannot be understated … With respect, the Band’s Reservation is different than ceded territories, and crossing the Reservation is different than crossing private property within a ceded territory …

‘Best and Most Plentiful Wild Rice Waters’

Leech Lake Band members harvest wild rice on Mud Lake. (Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through Creative Commons license.)

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is expected to vote on Line 3 in late June. It will rely on O’Reilly’s report for its deliberations.

The Leech Lake Band says that O’Reilly’s analysis is skewed, ignoring Line 3’s impacts on Leech Lake simply because the pipeline corridor already exists. The letter continues:

The Leech Lake Reservation has the best and most plentiful wild rice in the State. As [Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Environmental Director Levi] Brown stated, ten percent of Minnesota’s fresh water lies within the Leech Lake Reservation boundaries, and Leech Lake has the most abundant wild rice resources. The existing Line 3 pipeline runs through the very heart of wild rice country where it crosses through the Leech Lake Reservation. …

The Leech Lake Band argues that rebuilding in the same trench “has the greatest impacts on wild rice of any alternative.”

Impacts on the Chippewa National Forest

O’Reilly’s report also fails to acknowledge the impact on the Chippewa National Forest of removing the old pipeline and installing a new one, the Band says. Leech Lake co-manages the Chippewa National Forest with the U.S. Forest Service. The current Line 3 affects 157 acres of that forest.

Elliot writes:

The Band has a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service that was signed “to recognize treaty rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and gather wild plants on national forest lands.” Thus, to the extent [O’Reilly] was concerned about impacts on treaty rights, the record is clear that [the in-trench replacement plan] would have real and concrete impacts. The [PUC] should not ignore these facts.

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