Protesters march across rural Carlton County
AUTOMBA, Minn., — A rally in rural Carlton County on Monday, Dec. 11, drew a parade of protesters marching down the center of a county road — pastoral round hay bales on one side and a stockpile of pipe meant for the still-uncertain Line 3 replacement on the other.
"It was peaceful," Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said of the protest, in which there were no arrests. "We had squads there to make sure the group was able to safely carry out their right to peaceably assemble, while also maintaining safety on the roadways for the motoring public."
More than 100 people calling themselves "water protectors" arrived along Carlton County Road 6 in a caravan of vehicles, including a Twin Cities coach bus filled with people. They seemed to come from all over to an event organized by both the nonprofit indigenous justice agency Honor the Earth and the Makwa Initiative, the camp assembled outside Cloquet in protest of Enbridge's proposed Line 3 replacement project.
Mickey Bluestone came to the rally from California, "near San Diego," he said, having booked a room at the Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton.
"I'm here for the preservation of Native rights and lands," Bluestone said, adding that he's spent the past year traveling the country and hitting other rallies protesting new fossil-fuel projects.
The groups made the Enbridge storage yard, located roughly 6 miles south of Cromwell, the backdrop for the event. Pipe stacked four rows high was spread across 35 acres as the marching protesters sang and clung together against a bitter crosswind.
"They're terrified," Ta'Sina Sapa Win said of Enbridge to the crowd. "It's going to take a lot more than the arrests of the past six months to make us go away."
She was referring to protests and direct actions dating back to August — including access blockages and heavy-equipment lockdowns on construction sites outside Superior which have led to several arrests for misdemeanor charges.
Enbridge's Superior office defended the pipe yard — and others like it located along the route.
"It takes a long time to order pipe for our projects," said Enbridge spokeswoman Shannon Gustafson in an email. "Based on a number of factors, including securing mill space, pipe production and transit, it can take 18-24 months to get pipe ordered and delivered into a pipeyard."
Enbridge is constructing a pipeline to replace the existing 50-year-old Line 3 that crosses northern Minnesota on its route from Alberta to Superior. The replacement is under construction in Canada and Wisconsin, but awaiting the outcome of a review process in Minnesota.
"In the case of the Line 3 Replacement Project," Gustafson said, "our final pipe delivery is not expected until the end of the second quarter of 2018 which is in line with our anticipated construction start at the end of 2018, pending regulatory approval."
In a position paper in November about the stockpiles of pipe, Honor the Earth said the accumulated pipe undermined the state's ability to conduct an objective review process. The stockpiles "introduced enormous bias into the court of public opinion, as rural communities across Northern Minnesota have now spent years living with pipe for the proposed project transported on their roads and piled in their backyards," said the paper.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website shows an active construction stormwater permit for the "Cromwell Storage Yard" scheduled to run through December 2018, and first issued in July 2015.
There are several other MPCA construction stormwater permits issued throughout Carlton County, including one for a Kwik Trip project and two other pipe yards.
The protest parade featured a brass band complete with tuba and a variety of masked characters. About a quarter of those in attendance covered their faces — part of a security protocol some of the campers and protectors adhere to rigorously.
Deer River High School freshman Brianna Matrious came to the rally with her mother. While holding up one of the many signs and props employed by protesters during a march, Matrious said, "I'm here to protect our water for future generations."