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Unions condemn pipeline protests: Protesters’ action stops Line 3 work again Friday

DULUTH — Local unions condemned protesters Friday, Aug. 25, after people identifying themselves as water protectors temporarily shut down construction on a segment of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement in Wisconsin for a second time this week. The latest work shutdown came near the border with Minnesota, just southeast of Jay Cooke State Park.

"There was a temporary shutdown of work in the area," said Sgt. Jake Engelman of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, who was among the law enforcement responders that met the roughly dozen-plus protesters on Friday. Carlton County deputies and the Minnesota State Patrol also were on the scene in supportive roles, Engelman said.

Protesters arrived to the scene along Douglas County Road W shortly before 10:30 a.m., and left around noon.

Enbridge did not respond to a News Tribune request for comment on Friday's incident.

But Duluth construction union Laborers Local 1091 spokesman Dan Olson wrote a strong rebuke of the week's events, calling it trespassing and saying, "These protesters put workers' lives in danger, as well as their own, and must stop."

Soonafter, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 weighed in and, like the other local, said it respected the right to protest, but called the protests "unsafe and unacceptable for everyone involved, especially the workers and contractors on site doing the work."

The right to protest, the union said in a prepared statement, "does not extend to trespassing on private land, damaging equipment, and exhibiting violent behavior toward a project that is legally permitted and is intended to improve safety."

Videos posted to social media did not show any action at the work site adjacent to the road, but protesters were shown singing and discussing the action with the authorities along the roadside. Once again, there were no arrests or citations.

Engelman explained that Enbridge officials would have to want to press trespassing charges, which has not been the case in either event this week. Work resumed immediately after protesters dispersed, he said.

On Monday, the water protectors shut down work for about two hours — some of the masked protesters locking themselves to heavy equipment. Engelman said a window on an excavator was broken that day. An Enbridge official previously said there had been vandalism, but did not describe the nature of it. Both unions cited the previous vandalism in their letters condemning the events of the week.

There was no damage to equipment on Friday, Engelman said.

In social media videos, pipeline workers could be seen, having left their heavy equipment cabs and congregating near the roadside. An Enbridge official explained earlier this week that workers are trained to lock cabs and leave the scene for their safety — and not to engage with protesters.

The new pipeline would replace Enbridge's existing 50-year-old Line 3 that crosses northern Minnesota on its route from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. While construction has started in both Canada and Wisconsin, the review process in Minnesota remains ongoing with a decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline expected sometime next spring.

Neo Gabo Benais, of Onamia, Minnesota, organized and was present for both protests this week. When asked for comment about Friday's action, he told the News Tribune: "We are a first-generation civilization harnessing energy from Mother Earth," he said. "We are transcending into the second-generation civilization harnessing energy from the sun. If we do not act now and stay in this era any longer, as soon as 20 years goes by, we may never make it to the third-generation civilization — able to travel the stars."