DULUTH – A rural area near an Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline construction site outside Cloquet was evacuated on Friday afternoon following a report of suspicious packages being left in the area, according to the Carlton County Sheriff's Office.

The incident occurred after Fond du Lac police responded to protests blocking Ditchbank Road around noon. As people were dispersing about 12:40 p.m., the packages were thrown, the Sheriff's Office said.

Enbridge said in a statement that construction workers "observed a group of protesters, one of whom threw a suspicious device onto the construction site. The protesters then rushed to drive away from the scene. Our workers reported the incident to local authorities, and have been evacuated from the site as emergency responders investigate."

An emergency alert lit up the phones of residents in a wide area of northeastern Minnesota. The alert was later amended to say the incident is a "localized event in Carlton County. Disregard if not in specified area."

A bomb squad was called in to investigate, and the Perch Lake Town Hall was used as a shelter for those affected by the evacuation in the area west of Cloquet and north of Big Lake between Mission Road and Enger/Cary Road. The evacuation was lifted about 5:20 p.m.

The Cloquet Area Fire District, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources assisted with the investigation.

"Out of an abundance of caution, Enbridge has shut down its pipelines in the area," the company said Friday afternoon. "Putting the lives of workers, first responders and community members at risk is unacceptable. Protesters need to know actions that put people in harm's way will be prosecuted, and that we are working with the police and other authorities to assure worker safety."

The 337-mile pipeline has been under construction across Minnesota for several months, and protests have increasingly turned confrontational as protesters lock themselves to equipment, climb inside pipes and otherwise disrupt work following court rulings allowing construction to continue amid legal challenges to the project.

On Friday, the protest group Camp Migizi wrote on Facebook: "Law enforcement-induced hysteria is being used to manipulate the masses to curb resistance. The only immediate danger is the wellbeing of the rice, and the water."

Opponents argue the pipeline should not be built given the threat of climate change, the risk of oil spills and tribal rights. Enbridge says the project, which replaces an aging pipeline — though taking a different path for part of its route across the state — will improve safety.

Construction delays have caused the cost of the project to rise by $1.1 billion; the U.S. stretch of the pipeline that travels from Alberta to a terminal in Superior, Wis., will cost about $4.1 billion.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496