by: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

Posted: 6/9/2021 / 5:26 PM CDT
Updated: 6/9/2021 / 5:26 PM CDT

Security forces patrol protesters beneath a boat blocking the entrance to an Enbridge Line 3 pumping station near Park Rapids in northern Minnesota on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (AP Photo / Dave Kolpack)

FARGO, ND (AP) – Nearly 250 people were arrested as protesters attempting to stop the final stretch of the rebuilding of an oil pipeline through northwest Minnesota took over a pumping station, police officers said Wednesday.

Hubbard County’s Sheriff Cory Aukes said 43 workers at Enbridge Energy Line 3 pumping station were trapped on the premises for some time Monday morning when protesters locked them up behind the front gate. Protesters also erected barricades and dug trenches over streets, “presumably in preparation” for a standoff with law enforcement, Aukes said.

The workers were finally able to leave the construction site. No injuries were reported.

“This is unacceptable and we will take full criminal prosecution of all involved,” said Enbridge Energy spokeswoman Juli Kellner.

Aukes said 179 people were arrested and charged with trespassing. Another 68 people were charged with public harassment and illegal gatherings. It was the largest resistance demonstration since protesters targeted the project.

The sheriff said protesters caused “great damage” to “equipment and other assets”. Kellner said the damage included vandalism to contractors’ equipment, as well as slashed tires, cut hoses, stones and debris in engines, forced entry into offices and broken electrical wiring in equipment. She did not make a damage assessment.

Protesters pulled a large boat to block the main entrance to the pumping station and about 20 people barricaded themselves in front of it, Aukes said. The last four protesters were removed from the boat Tuesday lunchtime when Kellner said some employees were returning to work on the premises near Park Rapids, about 85 miles east of Fargo.

Monday was billed as the people gathering of the contract. When the protesters reached the pumping station, a separate group held a prayer service near the Mississippi headwaters, about 25 miles away, before an estimated 1,000 people marched to where the pipeline crosses under the river. This peaceful get-together with music, prayers and speeches, including one by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben.

“The climate change thing is a temporary test,” McKibben told The Associated Press before the march. “If we don’t get it right soon, we will never get it right.”

Another protest against the pipeline is planned for Thursday in Minneapolis outside the office of Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. TakeAction Minnesota group says Klobuchar should pressure President Joe Biden to stop construction on Line 3.

Environmental and tribal groups say Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace Line 3 would worsen climate change and risk spills in sensitive areas where Native Americans harvest wild rice, hunt, fish, forage medicinal plants and enforce contract rights. The line would cross the Mississippi, transporting Canadian tar sand oil and regular crude oil from Alberta and through North Dakota and Minnesota to Wisconsin.

Enbridge says the original pipeline – which was built in the 1960s – is deteriorating and can only operate at about half of its original capacity. The new line of stronger steel will better protect the environment while restoring capacity and ensuring reliable supplies to U.S. refineries.

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