A Minnesota district judge has slapped the Hubbard County sheriff with a temporary restraining order, ruling that the county must stop obstructing access to a property used by opponents of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline project.
Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke and Tara Houska, two leaders of protests against the oil pipeline, recently sued Hubbard County and Sheriff Cory Aukes for repeatedly blocking a driveway to a home near Menahga in north-central Minnesota.
The property is one of several camps near the pipeline route used by "water protectors," as Line 3 protesters call themselves.
Houska, the house's tenant and caretaker, and LaDuke say that on June 28, Sheriff's Office squad cars arrived at the home, and its occupants were told their driveway would soon be "barricaded." Sheriffs' deputies have continued to obstruct access to the property, the lawsuit said.
The plaintiffs argued that the county's actions were denying them their property rights, and District Judge Jana Austad agreed.
"This is a substantial violation of plaintiffs' right to the use and the enjoyment of the property," she wrote. "The alleged conduct of the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department could also, if established, be a deprivation of constitutional rights."
Austad ordered the Sheriff's Office to stop "barricading, obstructing or otherwise interfering with access to the property." Deputies also must stop issuing citations or arresting people for their presence on the driveway — unless they have a valid warrant.
"We want to thank the court for informing Hubbard County about the rights of property owners, and hope that the sheriff's continued preoccupation with the repression of water protectors can be focused on real criminals," LaDuke, who leads the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, said in a statement.
Aukes said he will appeal the judge's order and that deputies "are not blocking" the driveway. He said they have stopped vehicles on the driveway and cited the drivers.
The county says the driveway does not have a proper easement to a connecting township road, so driving on it is effectively trespassing on county land. Aukes said he started issuing citations because "multiple people are coming and going from that camp and committing crimes."
He said the alleged crimes included damage to Enbridge's equipment and property.
Enbridge has completed 70% of the controversial Line 3, which runs across northern Minnesota, connecting Canadian oil fields to the company's Superior, Wis., facility. Protests have multiplied along the 340-mile pipeline route. Arrests have numbered in the hundreds.
LaDuke bought the house in 2018 and applied to the County Board to retain the use of the driveway easement across county tax-forfeited property. The board granted her request.
Later, she transferred ownership of the property to Switchboard Trainers Network, which is described in a plaintiffs' court filing as a "community organization" with a "sister relationship."
Aukes said the group never applied to the County Board to have the easement transferred from LaDuke.
LaDuke said the easement automatically transferred to Switchboard Trainers Network.
In her ruling, Austad wrote "the evidence before the court does not support the defendants' interpretation of the easement or law enforcement actions to blockade and criminalize the use of the driveway in existence for 90 years."
Environmental groups and some Ojibwe bands opposed to new Line 3 say it will expose new regions of Minnesota's lake and rivers to oil spill degradation, as well as exacerbate climate change.
Calgary-based Enbridge says the pipeline — a replacement for its corroding current Line 3 — will be a marked safety improvement.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003