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Pipeline incidents include more than protests

Douglas County Sheriff personnel and pipeline workers stand along County Road W on Tuesday morning south of Oliver. Jed Carlson /

Recent pipeline protests have attracted media attention in Douglas County, but the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project has also been the site of threats, theft and vandalism over the past two months.

About a dozen incidents have been reported to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, from sightings of suspicious vehicles to arrests.

The first took place July 22 when someone moved three excavators which were parked by the pipeline. One was moved onto a natural gas pipeline easement and sunk in the mud. The estimated cost to safely remove it was $100,000, according to the report.

A number of full-size construction road signs and stands worth about $7,000 were reported stolen from the work area July 27. The signs were owned by a subcontractor working with Enbridge.

On Aug. 17, a town of Superior resident notified the sheriff's office that she saw vehicles pulled over on the side of County Road W. She saw about eight people wearing facemasks and black hoodies walking toward equipment on the pipeline. When Sgt. Jake Engelman responded, the project supervisor told him that the protesters were trying to serve them a copy of an 1854 Ceded Territory Treaty. The protesters asked for a way to get the treaty to a supervisor and eventually left.

"At this time, there had been no physical altercations or major disturbances," Engelman reported.

Several protesters showed up on the work site Aug. 21 along County Highway W, according to reports. The protesters remained on scene for approximately two hours and left in vehicles across the Minnesota state line. An excavator window was later found to be intentionally shattered, with damage estimated at $178.

Four days later, about 30 protesters were reported at the work site along County Highway W near the state line. At the time deputies arrived, protesters were all on the roadway and no arrests were made. They dispersed after about an hour and work on the pipeline resumed.

That afternoon, union officials responded to the continued protests, urging peaceful protests and asking those involved not to endanger themselves and others by trespassing on work sites.

Protesters returned to the pipeline project Aug. 28. Sheriff Tom Dalbec spoke with the group and the members were cooperative for the most part, according to a report by Officer Ed Gallagher.

On Aug. 29, Enbridge spokeswoman Becky Haase sent out a news release concerning the continued disruptions.

"While our preference is always to seek to resolve differences of opinion through dialogue — peacefully and respectfully, we can't continue to tolerate trespassing, vandalism or unlawful actions that put people and the environment at risk," Haase wrote.

She added the Line 3 replacement project, an essential safety and maintenance project that has been approved by the state of Wisconsin.

That same day, an employee working on the pipeline reported being confronted and threatened by two protesters wearing face coverings, according to reports.

On Aug. 30, six protesters were arrested for trespassing on the project site. One of the men involved locked himself to an excavator. All six face charges Douglas County Circuit Court for trespass to land and disorderly conduct; three of them have also been charged with resisting or obstructing an officer.

All six have been released on cash bonds. Their next court appearances were set for October.

Tuesday, Sgt. Cory Knutson was dispatched to County Highway W for a report of a group of protesters near the pipeline work site. About 20 protesters were standing on the railroad right of way. Based on their coordinates, they appeared to be standing on property in the state of Minnesota, Knutson reported. They remained on site for one hour before leaving.

In addition, the sheriff's office received reports of a suspicious vehicles driving past the site on two different occasions.

Enbridge is constructing the new pipeline to replace the existing 50-year-old Line 3 that crosses northern Minnesota on its route from Alberta to Superior. The replacement is under construction in Canada and Wisconsin, and awaiting the outcome of a review process in Minnesota.