As Enbridge pushes Line 3 construction into high gear, legal and moral challenges demand it stop

String of pipeline recently laid out west of the Gully Fen Scientific and Natural Resource Area in Polk County. (Photo: Watch the Line)

Two lawsuits are in the works to force a construction delay in the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline, which is now well underway.

The Red Lake Band and White Earth nations, the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth sued in federal court last week to delay Line 3 construction, arguing it violates treaty rights and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted permits in violation of environmental laws.

Later this week, Honor the Earth says it will join with Red Lake, White Earth and the Sierra Club to go to the Minnesota Court of Appeals to seek a construction delay. The influx of construction out-of-state workers threatens to spread COVID-19 in northern Minnesota, they say. And the Court of Appeals has pending lawsuits against Line 3 that still needed to be heard and decided.

Pipeline construction equipment at the ready in Pennington County, Sunday. Photo: Watch the Line.

With these cases pending, Enbridge is racing to get as much work done as possible before the courts intervene. It’s preparing to bore under the Mississippi River in Aitkin County, one of 21 Minnesota water bodies where it plans to use a Horizontal Directional Drilling method. Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth has organized prayer vigils nearby. Protests in that area already resulted in mass arrests.

Enbridge also has begun work to drill a pipeline tunnel under the Red Lake River in Pennington County. Sam Strong, Secretary of the Red Lake Nation, has established a treaty camp on public property abutting the pipeline route, encouraging tribal members to practice their treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather there.

To the left of the fence is Enbridge’s staging area to drill under the Red Lake River (in the distance). To the right, public lands where the Red Lake Treaty Camp resides, just north of St. Hilaire, MN. Photo: Watch the Line.

Line 3 would cross two “Restricted Outstanding Resource Value Waters,” according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). One of them is the Gully Fen Scientific and Natural Area. Enbridge already begun laying pipeline along this particular stretch, just west of Gully, MN. The pipeline center line would pass within 63 feet of the Gully Fen, according Line 3’s environmental impact statement.

This particular scientific area is known for its diversity of groundwater-influenced plant communities such as open rich peatland, forested peatland, wet forest, and wet meadow, according to the DNR.

Line 3’s impact on Gully Fen could include: “alteration of hydrology, introduction of contaminants, loss of rare or unique plants, introduction of invasive species, and altered peat formation,” all of which could be detrimental, according to the state’s Line 3’s environmental impact statement.

The MPCA and the DNR both approved the pipeline. What’s more, the DNR approved a fen management plan that will allow Enbridge to dewater the area as part of Line 3’s construction. It designates two pumping locations, one where Enbridge can pump up to 2,100 gallons of water per minute with an annual maximum of 47.3 million gallons, and a second site where Enbridge can pump up to 700 gallons per minute not to exceed 15.8 million gallons.

Gully Fen Scientific and Natural Area. Photo: DNR

It’s one of a number of examples where state leaders just don’t seem to get it.

We only have so much clean water. Why are we wasting it, especially on such an unnecessary project?

And why are Minnesota state leaders refusing to delay in Line 3 construction to reduce the risks of pandemic spread from an influx of out-of-state workers?

It’s inexplicable that Minnesota state leaders are allowing a Canadian company to build this pipeline with its many environmental risks when Canadians themselves have rejected such pipelines on their own soil, such as Energy East and the Northern Gateway projects.

File: December Line 3 resistance event in Aitkin County, near the pipeline’s proposed Mississippi River crossing.

Minnesota state leaders are allowing this project to proceed when they have no idea whether it violates treaty rights as Native nations claim. It’s state leader’s sworn duty to uphold the Constitution, which includes honoring treaties. They don’t get to plead ignorance. It’s not their job to make the final call; it is their job to get informed opinions before approving such projects.

If you haven’t read it yet, check out author Louise Erdrich’s marvelous New York Times Op/Ed piece Monday: Not Just Another Pipeline. Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, writes:

These Canada-based corporations are perpetrating a vast ecological crime, and Minnesota is their accomplice. But we could cross over to something better. Tar sands do not have to flow through this pipeline. The rivers can heal, the great scars gouged into the wetlands regenerate.

Many tribal traditions recognize women as keepers of water. It is a spiritual as well as practical responsibility, and therefore especially meaningful that Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, has been chosen as our next interior secretary. Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota’s lieutenant governor and a White Earth tribal member, has taken a firm stand against Line 3. Organizations led by Anishinaabe women have taken every available legal path to protect our waters, but are now engaged in an on-the-ground battle for the future …

Let us all stand with them, each as we are able.

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