Alternative oil pipeline route criticized by Dayton, Leech Lake Ojibwe, Enbridge

By Jimmy Lovrien
April 25, 2018

DULUTH, Minn. — A judge’s recommendation that the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement should follow its existing route across northern Minnesota — through two reservations instead of around them, as Enbridge had proposed — is being met with criticism from all sides, including the state’s governor.

Gov. Mark Dayton, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Enbridge have taken issue with Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s recommendation, released Monday, which calls for the in-trench replacement of the 50-year-old pipeline through its existing route that includes the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which will vote on the pipeline replacement in June, does not have the authority to require reservations to permit pipelines, O’Reilly wrote.

In a statement Tuesday, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe described the recommendation as “anti-sovereignty” and said that it “puts undue burden on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to hold the risk of the pipeline replacement and to revoke the permit.”

“The judge has made this horrific recommendation without even holding a single ALJ hearing on the Leech Lake Reservation and gave a recommendation on a route that has not had the same level of environmental review,” wrote Ben Benoit, the band’s environmental director.

Although Dayton has said he won’t take a position until the PUC decides whether to approve the pipeline, he said the judge’s recommendation to build the pipeline through two reservations didn’t seem possible, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

“I don’t see any viable way that that could be attempted or should be attempted going through the two tribal lands,” Dayton said during a question-and-answer session with the Youth Climate Justice Summit on Wednesday. “And given their adamant position they’re against anything like that, I don’t see how that’s viable.”

Enbridge is opposed to the recommendation as well and vows to move forward with its original plan.

“We don’t agree with that recommendation, and Enbridge continues to believe our preferred route is the best route for Minnesota when all factors are considered,” Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said in a statement that the company remains set on its proposed route.

“Given the demonstrated need for Line 3, the benefits of the proposed route, and the substantial negative impacts associated with the ALJ’s alternative route, we continue to believe the PUC should approve the replacement of Line 3 as proposed,” Monaco said.

However, that has drawn strong opposition, too, because Enbridge’s preferred route would carry Canadian tar sands crude from Alberta across environmentally sensitive areas in the Mississippi River headwaters region where American Indians harvest wild rice and hold treaty rights.

If approved, the Line 3 replacement would cross 337 miles of Minnesota carrying 760,000 barrels of oil per day between Alberta and the Enbridge terminal in Superior, and the preferred route differs from the original line for about half the distance. Enbridge has planned to leave the old pipeline in the ground after cleaning it and sealing it in parts.

O’Reilly wrote in her non-binding recommendation that “in-trench replacement mitigates, to a large degree, the detrimental impacts that abandonment of an old line and creation of a new oil pipeline corridor would have on the state.”

Additional questions to Enbridge, such as the cost of taking out the old line to replace it in-trench, were not answered by Wednesday evening.

Construction for the entire 1,031-mile replacement is already underway in Canada and Wisconsin, but it still needs to pass the review process in Minnesota.

When asked about a potential denial of the company’s plans, Monaco told Forum News Service last year: “I don’t want to say what we would do or whether there’s a Plan B because we’re focused on executing the plan right now.”

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