Walz ducks Line 3 and its harms in State of the State address

The destruction is massive and ongoing

Line 3 work at ground level: Construction in Aitkin County near Highway 169 in January.

In tonight’s State of the State speech, Gov. Tim Walz avoided any mention of Enbridge Line 3 and the devastation happening right now in northern Minnesota. This fits with his position since elected; he’s ignoring the damage to the state’s cleanest waters and wetlands, to Indigenous rights, and to the global climate.

He’s pretending he has no power or role to play.

For those bothering to look, Line 3’s destruction at ground level is harrowing. We’ve witnessed the endless piles of cut trees, the burning slash piles, enormous vehicles rumbling over fragile soils, millions of gallons of water pumped from the ground in trench “dewatering” zones, and preparations to bore under the Mississippi River (at two locations).

Seeing Line 3 construction from the air, we also can grasp the enormous scope of the operation, and better understand how – if the project is allowed to continue – it will cause permanent changes to the forests and wetlands that it crosses.

Spring Branch Creek, January 2021. It flows into Roosevelt Lake.

The drone photo above shows Spring Branch Creek in Cass County in January of this year. The yellow arrow marks the site where the pipeline would eventually cross the stream. You can see the beginnings of the wood plank road used to move heavy equipment through wetlands.

Line 3 is the thick red line. The blue circle with wavy lines indicates where the pipeline crosses Spring Branch Creek

Spring Branch is a high-quality and, until now, undisturbed stream that feeds into Roosevelt Lake, according to scientists who are supporting the legal fight to stop Line 3. The creek is bordered by wetlands and forest, which help keep the water clean and provide habitat for spawning fish, rare plants and other species that Minnesotans value. Roosevelt Lake is part of the Crooked Creek chain of lakes; Crooked Creek flows out of Roosevelt Lake into the Pine River, which then flows into the Mississippi. Many of the 212 streams and thousands of acres of wetlands crossed by this project are in the Mississippi’s watershed.

Overhead view of Spring Branch Creek in March, as workers prepare to trench the pipeline.

By March, the construction zone had expanded to both sides of Spring Branch Creek. Pipe is laid out as workers prepare to trench through the river and wetlands on both sides. You can see the wide construction corridor carved through the landscape; the pipeline’s footprint in Minnesota forests is significant. Untold thousands of large trees already have been cut down.

Map of MinnCan corridor and Line 3 through LaSalle Creek, looking north.

Aerial photos from another controversial stream crossing further illustrate the rapid pace of construction. The LaSalle Creek ecosystem complex in Clearwater County is a high-quality and vulnerable area in the LaSalle Creek valley. The area has four different kinds of wetlands: hardwood swamp, coniferous swamp, shrub wetlands and freshwater meadow. LaSalle Creek flows north into Big LaSalle Lake. Several small springs emerge from the valley walls, creating delicate hydrologic connections between land and water.

The cleared swath of land, going diagonally from the upper left to lower right, is the MinnCan pipeline corridor. It carries tar sands crude oil from Canada to refineries in the Twin Cities. MinnCan had significant problems when it tried to cross LaSalle Creek in 2008. It tried to bore under the creek using horizontal directional drilling, resulting in what is known in the industry as a “frac-out.” The drilling mud and associated chemicals it was using escaped into the environment and required a complicated clean up; in fact, much of the drilling mud was left in the valley because removing it was deemed to be too damaging to this sensitive ecosystem.

Enbridge’s Line 3 generally parallels the MinnCan pipeline corridor in this area. At the creek crossing, however, it departed from the MinnCan corridor to parallel the Creek for some distance before crossing at a new location..

Ariel view looking south, at the wood plank road Enbridge constructed to cross LaSalle Creek, March 19

Enbridge has clear cut a new path through the wetlands, further fragmenting them. It has laid wooden mats for heavy equipment to drive on. Their next step would be to dam the creek and pump the water around the construction site. In addition, they would likely use heavy-duty pumps to “dewater” or drain the wetland near where they are working. They would dig a 7- to 9-foot deep trench through the peat-rich wetlands, the streambanks and forests. Finally, they would lay the pipe and backfill soils at a random density, then keep the corridor tree-free for the life of the pipeline, meaning water flows could be permanently changed.

Line 3 will travel 337 miles border to border in Minnesota, and for much of that land, Native nations have reserved rights to hunt, fish, and gather. This pipeline is damaging to our environment and to those Indigenous rights.

Back in 2014, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) analyzed a similar proposed pipeline (Sandpiper) through the LaSalle Creek area. The MPCA raised strong concerns at the time, according to an MPR story. The agency said: “The environmental damage that would occur as a result of a leak at this location could be massive, and the obstacles to containing the leak or performing clean-up activities could be insurmountable.”

Hey, MPCA, what changed?

Gov. Walz spent most of his State of the State speech tonight talking about the state’s COVID-19 response.

Meanwhile, national attention is beginning to focus on efforts to stop Line 3, as legal battles continue and with environmental destruction ongoing. The Governor’s own Commerce Department is in court trying to reverse Line 3’s permits. It says Enbridge failed to prove the pipeline is needed.

And the Governor remains silent.

Sign that’s been appearing at Stop Line 3 events.

In trying to focus on the good news in his State of the State speech, Walz talked about how Minnesota is leading in vaccination effort and stemming the pandemic. “There’s nothing our state can’t do when we come together,” he said.

Actually, the state didn’t fully come together on the effort. Some residents refused to wear masks or social distance and some are now refusing the vaccine. In the political arena, Walz faced stiff political headwinds from Republicans who opposed his use of the State of Emergency orders to deal with the crisis.

Minnesota citizens have strong opinions about Line 3, too.

I would modify Walz’s statement: “There’s nothing our state can’t do when we get a critical mass of people behind it.”

And many, many people are getting behind efforts to stop Line 3 and the epidemic of environmental destruction. And with or without the governor’s leadership, we will stop it.

For a new two-minute video with drone footage of Line 3, click here.

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