Enbridge still expects its controversial new pipeline across northern Minnesota to be operating by the end of 2019, despite permitting delays and appellate court challenges to the $2.6 billion project, company executives said Friday.

The Calgary, Alberta-based pipeline giant had told investors as recently as December that its financial models assumed the pipeline would be done by Nov. 1. On an earnings conference call with stock analysts Friday, Enbridge officials would not commit to that date.

But “with timely [permit] approvals, we still expect the project to be in service by the end of the year,” Enbridge CEO Al Monaco told analysts.

On June 28, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unanimously approved the $2.6 billion pipeline, a replacement for Enbridge’s aging and corroding Line 3. But Enbridge must still get other, more technical state permits, primarily from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources. It also needs a key water-crossing permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Meanwhile, environmental groups, two Indian tribes and the Minnesota Department of Commerce have all filed court appeals to overturn the PUC’s decision. Gov. Tim Walz said this week he would continue the state’s appeal, which was started last year under his predecessor, Mark Dayton.

Monaco said the appeals “shouldn’t interfere with the timing of the permitting process.”

Enbridge can and likely will start work on the pipeline while the appeals are being heard.

Appellants could ask the Minnesota Court of Appeals to halt construction, but there’s a high legal bar for obtaining such an injunction.

Enbridge had originally hoped to have all permits in hand in order to start construction during 2018’s fourth quarter. Then, it moved up the start time to the first three months of this year.

An analyst on Friday’s conference call asked when construction crews must be “in the field” for Enbridge to meet the year-end target. Said Guy Jarvis, Enbridge executive vice president of liquid pipelines and major projects: “At the outside, we need to be in the field sometime in June.”

The Line 3 replacement would be one of the largest construction projects in Minnesota in recent years, employing at least 4,000 building-trades workers, according to the company.

Enbridge said the new 330-mile pipeline is a much-needed safety upgrade over current Line 3, which is corroding and operating at only 51 percent capacity due to safety concerns. The new pipeline would restore the full flow of oil to 760,000 barrels per day.

Opponents of new Line 3 said it would exacerbate climate change, and — since the pipeline would partly follow a new route — would open a new region of lakes, rivers and wild-rice waters to degradation from oil spills.