Line 3’s 25 Independent Environmental Monitors are the eyes and ears for state regulators, making sure Enbridge is following all permits and rules and minimizing environmental damage while building its new crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
When the independent monitor observes activities that violate any environmental plan, permit, certification, or authorization, they file a report marked “unacceptable.”
Construction of Line 3 is 50 percent complete. From the beginning of construction Dec. 1 to the end of April, Independent Environmental Monitors have filed 10 “Unacceptable” reports for the project, or one every two weeks on average.
In several incidents, Enbridge’s Environmental Inspectors were slow to respond to problems identified by the independent monitors.
Healing Minnesota Stories obtained copies of Line 3’s “Unacceptable” reports through a public information request. We received 13 documents covering 10 separate incidents. Here they are in chronological order.
December 3, Aitkin County: A contractor did clear cutting outside of the prescribed right of way. Estimated impact area was 55 feet wide and 225 feet long in a wetland. This area had been recently clear cut, the report said. Current vegetation was predominantly two- to three-year-old popples. Loss estimated 100 trees with approximately 75 tree merchantable timber. Area reflagged to mark the right of way.
Dec. 17, Cass County: Contractors were clearing trees and other vegetation in the pipeline corridor near Bull Moose Trail on Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land. Workers were chipping wood and shrubs. A DNR restriction said chipping is prohibited on state lands. Workers were directed to remove the chip piles.
Dec. 28-30 (three “unacceptable” reports), Clearwater County: Contractors were violating winter work restrictions. The independent monitor observed areas where workers were trenching through frozen ground. Line 3 permits say the top soil and subsoil are supposed to be kept separate. In this case, the subsoil was frozen to topsoil layer. Bulldozer operators were trying to break up larger chunks of frozen soil, resulting in further soil mixing.
The Independent Monitor brought the problem to the attention of an Enbridge Environmental Inspector who, according to the report, said everything looked fine to him. The independent monitor escalated the issue to Enbridge’s Lead Environmental Inspector.
Dec. 29, Clearwater County: A follow-up to the Dec. 28 report. The Independent Environmental Monitor (IEM) did not observe any of Enbridge’s environmental inspectors present on the right-of-way observing topsoil segregation/grading activities.
The report said: “The Chief Inspector informed the IEM that the contractors would be entering the Winter Construction Plan this afternoon.” The Independent Monitor report said he did not see the grading crew move into Winter Construction Plan that day.
Dec. 30, Clearwater County: A continuation of the Dec. 28 and 29 reports. The Independent Environmental Monitor again contacted one of Enbridge’s Environmental Inspectors. The Enbridge representative reportedly told the Independent Monitor that he “thought that the contractor had gone into the winter construction plan but perhaps
changed their mind, and we would just have to wait and see what happens.” The Independent Monitor informed the Enbridge representative that “it wasn’t up to the contractor, but rather site conditions that dictate when the Winter Construction Plan should be implemented.”
The Independent Monitor spoke to another Enbridge Environmental Monitor, the report said. That person stated that “the crew was just finishing up what they had ripped yesterday and were trying to come up with a plan to move forward.”
The independent monitor responded: “I informed him that they were not just finishing up what they started yesterday, but rather they are continuing to rip even deeper than yesterday.”
The Enbridge representative said the crew was going to keep working up to a wetland. No further information on this incident provided.
Jan. 11, Aitkin County, Hill City Construction Yard: There were no high visibility signs warning users of snowmobile trails at road crossings about the risks of construction traffic. The independent monitor’s report cited ongoing concerns by the DNR, and numerous previous reports on the problem that had gone unaddressed.
Jan. 13, Cass County: Workers had burned slash piles on DNR land on an unapproved site. They were directed to relocate the burning to an approved site and to contact environmental inspectors before initiating any future burning.
March 12, Cass County: Independent Monitor observed road rutting on DNR land and recommended stopping work in the area until the road could be graded back to acceptable levels. The monitor also recommended placing wooden mats in areas where rutting had occurred.
March 15, Aitkin County: The Independent Monitor observed impassable and extreme damage to Hedbom State Forest Road. Ruts up to 16-inches deep extended across the entire width of the road for approximately 100 feet.
The DNR’s lease states “rutting shall not exceed 50 feet of any 200 feet section of road.”
“This rutting issue was known and not addressed after several conversations about shutting down the access roads” and a DNR letter regarding road maintenance, the report said.
March 18, Saint Louis County: Independent Monitor was inspecting dewatering activity for the pipeline trench and observed turbid trench water flowing over the structure and directly into a wetland, along with other problems.
March 19, Aitkin County: Independent Monitor observes “nuisance water” condition on DNR tract of land. The contractor was backfilling the trenchline in a wetland. The fill displaced water in the trench to the surface. Due to the lack of sediment control, the silt-heavy water flowed 200 to 400 feet off the right of way and then froze. The contractor installed sediment barriers and was to clean up the estimated 1-2 cubic yards of silt after the thaw.
March 21, Aitkin County: An Independent Monitor notes trench “subsidence” at a stream crossing in a wetland area.
The monitor notes state that a report on the same problem had been filed March 15. Further, the monitor had a text exchange with an Enbridge Environmental Monitor on March 20 to talk about the importance of shoring up and restoring the east bank of the stream.
On March 21, the independent monitor arrived at stream “and observed sediment laden water held in an open trench directly draining into” the stream.
According to the March 21 report:
This issue was determined to be unacceptable as multiple reports have documented issues in this area. A communication report, a problem area report, and a follow-up communication report had been submitted for this area and these issues. Until this morning, sediment had not been observed directly discharging into the waterbody resource. This morning, the sediment was directly and actively discharging into S-250.1Independent Environmental Monitor report