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Twin Cities teens paddle to protest proposed Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline

Nolan Berglund, 16, of Minneapolis approaches the Diamond Point Park beach along with an adult paddler. A group of six Twin Cities teens will paddle a total of 250 miles across northern Minnesota to raise awareness of a pipeline replacement project. Grace Pastoor / Forum News Service

BEMIDJI, Minn.—A group of Twin Cities teens who took to the water six days ago to protest a proposed oil pipeline stopped in Bemidji to spread their message Thursday evening, Aug. 17.

The six youths, who are between 14 and 18 years old, are paddling canoes 250 miles across northern Minnesota in an effort to raise awareness of their objections to the potential replacement of Enbridge Energy's Line 3.

"I really think it's important that we have youth, and specifically indigenous youth, to lead this," said 16-year-old Nolan Berglund of Minneapolis. "I'd like to stress that it is indigenous youth that are leading a lot of this because this is the land that our ancestors are on."

Canadian energy company Enbridge hopes to replace the current Line 3, which was built in the 1960s and runs from Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

A draft environmental impact statement on the project was released in May and outlines five potential pipeline routes.

Local environmental groups, such as Honor the Earth and MN350, oppose the new pipeline, saying that a leak could contaminate important bodies of water. Enbridge's proposed route would cross a disputed section of the White Earth Reservation, which Honor the Earth says would violate treaty rights.

A final environmental impact statement released Thursday stated that, while Enbridge's preferred route would have the lowest spill risk, it—along with the other four proposed routes—could disproportionally impact Native American and low-income communities.

Rose Whipple, 16, of St. Paul, said she was disappointed with the draft environmental impact statement.

"They aren't always going to be telling the whole truth, they're going to be telling Enbridge's truth," she said. "They want people to think that it's a good pipeline, that it's gonna make jobs, that it's gonna help the people, it's gonna help the communities, and it's not."

In a statement emailed to the Bemidji Pioneer Thursday, an Enbridge official said the replacement project is "essential" for Minnesotans.

"Pipelines and clean water have co-existed for more than 65 years," Community Engagement Manager Jennifer Smith wrote. "Like all Minnesotans, Enbridge employees, family and friends enjoy fishing, swimming and paddling in our lakes and rivers, and we are committed to protecting our natural resources by replacing Line 3."

The teens will paddle all the way to Big Sandy Lake in Aitkin County, stopping at Cass Lake, Ball Club and Grand Rapids along the way.

"It's really important that we use the Mississippi and paddles, because it is a traditional way that the Ojibwe ... have used for transportation for thousands upon thousands of years," Berglund said. "I think it's a very different experience."

Whipple said that while she's taken a couple of spills into the Mississippi, the experience is worth it.

"The water's clean. We actually drank a lot of the water straight from the river, so that's how clean it is," Whipple said. "But as you see, once you go down to the Twin Cities, or further than that, you can see how the water has been polluted and it's really sad. If I can drink from the start, I should be able to drink at the end."

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