Around 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, three self-described "water protectors" locked to one another inside of a Line 3 pipeline segment near the Crow Wing River, while dozens more rallied in support.

According to a Northern Lights Task Force news release, the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office received a report of demonstrators on the pipeline right-of-way in section 4 of Huntersville Township, northeast of Huntersville. The reporting party stated there were approximately 30 individuals demonstrating and some of them were climbing on equipment and pipes at the work site.

The Northern Lights Task Force is a law enforcement coalition formed to address public safety needs posed by the installation of the Line 3 pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The task force reports that law enforcement arrived on scene and demonstrators got off the equipment. Enbridge construction workers told officers that four individuals climbed into the pipe “with cold weather gear and sleeping bags.”

“Dispersal orders were given to the group of demonstrators that were trespassing on pipeline property. Most left the area, but three remained inside the pipe. The section of pipe was approximately 2,250 feet long and the three individuals were approximately 70 feet inside the east end of the pipe,” said the release.

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Three individuals – identified as Trinity Shaw-Stewart, 20, of Medford, Ore.; Bonnie Hoekstra, 22, of St. Paul, and Jack Keenan, 26, of Stevens Point, Wis. – refused to comply and stayed in the pipe for approximately six hours, according to the task force. At approximately 5:30 p.m., they exited the pipe without incident. The task force says they were taken into custody, medically cleared by medical personnel on scene, and transported to the Wadena County Jail. They were held in custody on probable cause for gross misdemeanor trespassing.

The Wadena County Sheriff’s Office was assisted on scene by the Menahga Police Department, Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office and Tri-County Ambulance. The Wadena County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case for formal charges.

Protestors POV

According to a news release from the protestors, "Multiple tribally-led lawsuits are yet to be heard as Enbridge works non-stop to bulldoze Line 3 through Anishinaabe territory and the hundreds of wetlands and water bodies that lie in its path. The route is through an area untouched by tar sands infrastructure, as Enbridge plans to build a new corridor for its lines."

Shaw said, “There are two sides in this fight against Line 3. Those protecting water, land, food, and Indigenous sovereignty. And those protecting corporate greed and earth’s destruction. I’m locking down today because I know what side I’m on.”

Keenan said, “I am locking down in solidarity with the Anishinaabe, the Wet’suwet’en, and all people whose survival is threatened by so-called 'critical infrastructure.’ To risk the health of waterways and wild rice beds in service of fossil fuel extraction is insanity; to disregard the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples is genocide, plain and simple.”

Enbridge response

Juli Kellner, spokesperson for Enbridge, said, “Enbridge respects tribal sovereignty and treaty rights and is focused on protecting Minnesota’s environment. We have dedicated ourselves to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and are investing in energy transition, including wind, solar and renewable natural gas. Replacing Line 3 is an important part of a just energy transition – helping to keep energy safe and affordable for everyone. This safety and modernization driven project will protect the environment with a new pipeline while ensuring the safe delivery of needed energy.”

She continued, “The project is already providing significant economic benefits for counties, small businesses, Native American communities and union members – including creating 5,200 family-sustaining construction jobs, and millions of dollars in local spending and tax revenues. As of December 2020, Enbridge has spent $180 million dollars with tribal nations, communities and contractors – and the Line 3 project has just started. Nearly 400 Native men and women are working on Line 3, making up 9 percent of the workforce.”

Keller said the company recognizes the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully, while illegal activities by protesters endanger workers, first responders and the protesters themselves.

“We hoped all parties would come to accept the outcome of the thorough, science-based review and multiple approvals of the project,” Kellner said. “Line 3 has passed every test through six years of regulatory and permitting review, including 70 public comment meetings, appellate review and reaffirmation of a 13,500-page EIS, four separate reviews by administrative law judges, 320 route modifications in response to stakeholder input, and reviews and approvals from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (the only tribe with ‘Treatment as a State’ water quality authority along the pipeline route).”

Kellner explained, the existing Line 3 was built in the 1960s and is part of the Enbridge crude oil pipeline system, “which has crossed Mississippi in Minnesota safely for seven decades and coexisted with some of the most productive wild rice waters in Minnesota. Line 3 travels 1,097-miles from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wis. and currently operates below its designed capacity to increase operational safety. Its replacement was ordered by a federal consent decree during the Obama Administration. This work has already been done in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin.”