Hearing on Enbridge pipeline replacement gets emotional in final hearing in Bemidji
BEMIDJI, Minn.—Two weeks of public meetings on Enbridge's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project wrapped up Thursday with a well-attended and sometimes emotional gathering at Bemidji's Sanford Center.
About 200 people packed the center's designated room to respond to the recently released draft environmental review of the project. A mix of pipeline opponents and supporters shared their thoughts on the pipeline with Minnesota Department of Commerce representatives, who will compile the responses and present them to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The commission will eventually decide whether to issue a certificate of need and a route permit for the proposed Line 3 project.
Bill Grant, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Commerce's energy division, said Thursday's meeting had attendance on par with that of a previous gathering in St. Paul.
"It is the last public meeting we're having," Grant said. "People who haven't had the chance to comment to us about the draft (environmental impact statement) realized that now's their chance."
The current Line 3, built in the 1960s and owned by Canadian energy company Enbridge, runs from Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. Enbridge hopes to decommission the aging line and build a new one; many environmental groups and community activists oppose the plan.
A draft environmental impact statement was released in May and outlined five potential pipeline routes.
Representatives for Enbridge believe a replacement is the most environmentally responsible option, said Jennifer Smith, an Enbridge spokeswoman.
"We've spent thousands of hours consulting with stakeholders, looking and doing engineering and civil and environmental surveying along the preferred route," Smith said. "Line 3's been operating in northern Minnesota for decades and really the best way to reduce the risk of spills or to keep the environment safe going forward is just to replace the line."
A pro-pipeline group in neon green T-shirts—including Nick Kaneski—attended Thursday's meeting to express their support.
"I have worked in the Duluth area alongside Enbridge and with Enbridge for the past 10 years," Kaneski said. "What I've learned in 10 years is, hands down, I have never seen a safer company operate their assets like Enbridge has."
But many residents of the Leech Lake and White Earth reservations, along with environmental activist groups such as Minnesota 350 and Honor the Earth, object to the proposed route, as well as Enbridge's plan to leave the old Line 3 in the ground.
A group of about 35 anti-pipeline activists met in Paul Bunyan Park before the meeting, then marched to the Sanford Center, holding signs and chanting "water is life."
Charlotte Hughes, who opposes the new Line 3, said she hopes to see more of an emphasis on renewable energy.
"We want things that will not leak, that will not spill, will not create toxins in our environment," Hughes said "We have to go forward, we cannot go back. We will poison ourselves."
The public comment period on the draft EIS is open through July 10. Those who wish to make a comment can submit one by visiting mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilities/line3.