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Citizens group proposes alternative routes for Sandpiper pipeline

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PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- A citizens group seeking to protect the region’s natural resources has come up with two alternative routes for Enbridge Corp.’s proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline.

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The group, Friends of the Headwaters, has submitted the plans to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Both proposals skirt lake country in central Minnesota, particularly Hubbard County, and one nearly bypasses the state entirely.

As proposed by Enbridge, the 610-mile Sandpiper pipeline would run from northwestern North Dakota's Bakken oilfield to Superior, Wis.

Lorraine Little, a spokeswoman for Enbridge, said that neither of the proposed alternatives goes to its Superior terminal. From there, the oil can be routed to the Chicago area or to Michigan.  

“The oil needs to make it to Superior,” Little said Thursday.

She also said the alternative ideas come at the right time in the permitting process.

“This is what this part of the PUC process is about,” she said.

And as the comment period comes to a close today, Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman, who is hearing the pipeline case, has dealt a blow to Native Americans, ruling last week that 19th-century tribal treaties don’t give the nonprofit group Honor the Earth standing to contest the Sandpiper route.

“The treaty does not forbid creation of new rights of way on the land that was sold in 1855,” Lipman wrote in a seven-page order. He said there’s no evidence the treaty rights will be harmed, but if they are, Indians would be compensated.

But Native Americans have vowed to keep the fight going, in state and federal courts.

Friends of the Headwaters’ submitted routes focus on avoiding wild rice beds, fragile wetlands, shallow aquifers, lake country and the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

“Our proposed routes also utilize already existing pipeline corridors and provide Enbridge with the opportunity to connect the Sandpiper and Line 3 ‘rebuild’ with existing Enbridge operations,” Melodee Monicken of the Headwaters group said in an email. Line 3 refers to Enbridge’s replacement of an existing pipeline running from Alberta to Superior.

Enbridge’s preferred Sandpiper route cuts right through the Mississippi headwaters and lake country.

Friends of the Headwaters contends that the Straight River aquifer in north-central Minnesota already is compromised. The routes proposed avoid shallow aquifers and other sensitive areas.

The group worries that one pipeline leak during the Sandpiper’s lifespan -- projected to be 25 to 30 years -- could be catastrophic to the region’s ecosystem.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman recently informed Erma Vizenor, chairwoman of the White Earth Nation, that a set of formal hearings will commence this fall.

“We have asked the Public Utilities Commission to include at least one hearing on the White Earth Reservation and have been assured this will be the case,” Rothman wrote this month.

Rothman said formal hearings will take place after an environmental review document has been completed by his department.

“The environmental review document will consider a comprehensive set of impacts from the proposed project,” Rothman wrote.

Jeff Beach contributed to this report.

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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