Nearly two dozen protesters were arrested at an Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction site in Aitkin County near the Mississippi River on Monday after they blocked equipment and refused orders to disperse, Sheriff Dan Guida said.
Indigenous and environmental activists, who have been holding daily protests north of Palisade, Minn., prevented the extraction of a protester who had been camped in a tree for 10 days. Guida said a rope had been tied from the tree across the recently cleared pipeline route and created "an extremely dangerous situation."
"We got a bucket truck and moved in, and people blocked it," he said. "We don't really have a choice. We have to enforce those laws."
There were 22 arrests made, Guida said, most for misdemeanor trespassing on a posted construction site.
Activists vowed to continue to stand in the way of pipeline construction, which started two weeks ago.
"That Minnesotans are willing to risk arrest shows they're fighting to protect what they love," said Brett Benson, spokesman for environmental justice group MN350. "They're standing up to say it's time the state actually listen to Indigenous voices and start protecting our climate instead of caving to the interests of a Canadian oil giant."
Calgary-based Enbridge said in an earlier statement: "We recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully. We don't tolerate illegal activities of any kind including trespassing, vandalism, or other mischief, and Enbridge will seek to prosecute those individuals to the fullest extent of the law."
On Tuesday Guida said the site had returned to the peaceful level of activity he had seen over the past two weeks.
The sheriff said he has taken several calls from people concerned about jailing folks and potentially exposing them to COVID-19.
"We have a very good COVID-19 protocol in our jail," he said. "Everyone is safe."
Work on the $2.6 billion pipeline began on Dec. 1 after Enbridge received its final permit following six years of regulatory review. Opponents say the pipeline, which will deliver oil from the tar sands of Alberta to a terminal in Superior, Wis., will contribute to climate change and expose new parts of the state to the risk of oil spills.
Enbridge and its supporters say the line is a necessary replacement for the aged and deteriorating Line 3 and will move oil more safely across the state.
Indigenous organizer Winona LaDuke, who built a ceremonial lodge on the pipeline route where it is set to cross the Mississippi that has halted construction at that specific site, said "we will expect more resistance."
"We are sad that Minnesotans must face arrest to protect our water while Enbridge moves ahead," she said in a statement.
A number of preservation officers from the state, tribes and Enbridge have visited the lodge.
Legal challenges could still upend the project. Pipeline opponents are expected to ask the Minnesota Court of Appeals to stay construction while permit appeals are ongoing. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission declined to do so in part because of the effect that would have on workers.
About 2,000 people are on the job across the 340-mile pipeline route, and another 2,000 are expected to join them by the end of the year.
Several state legislators visited the site on Sunday to stand with the protesters.
"We have a moral imperative to do our part of mitigating the damage of the climate crisis," Jen McEwen, Duluth's senator-elect, said in a statement. "If this happens right now while we are at the helm of these decisions, history will not look kindly on us."
That's an about-face from her predecessor, Sen. Erik Simonson, who said on Twitter the project is "a much needed economic boost to so many stressed communities across northern Minnesota."
Enbridge expects the pipeline to be completed before the end of 2021.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496