Enbridge hasn't gotten the permits it needs to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, but it does have approval to start building the head and tail ends of the project in Canada and Wisconsin.
The company isn't waiting to begin construction. Workers are digging trenches and burying pipe south of Superior, near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. Construction there is supposed to wrap up by the end of September.
Company spokeswoman Becky Haase cited the need to build quickly. The existing pipeline is falling into disrepair, pumping Canadian tar sands oil at just half its former capacity. Enbridge has proposed building a new one and abandoning the original, which Minnesota's regulatory agencies are still debating.
Irked by Enbridge's apparent confidence that its Minnesota permits are sure to come through, protesters have staged a series of small demonstrations on work sites over the past week and a half.
Four separate days, protesters spilled onto the open worksite near Superior from an access road and locked themselves to machinery. Workers were instructed to turn off their engines and walk off site to avoid confrontation. There's been no violence that he knows of, said Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec, but protesters did break a window on a piece of heavy equipment and spray paint a pipe.
There were no arrests either until Tuesday morning, when about 10 protesters returned to the Superior site. One man locked himself to a machine while others livestreamed the event.
"We're here to peacefully ask Enbridge to remove Line 3. We came here in the morning when no one was working so that way everyone was safe," announced protester Kyla Hassig over Facebook Live.
"Enbridge, we know that everytime you say you'll stop for the day, you just go back to working. We told you that we honor our word. And we mean it. ... Just remember, we'll be on all day."
Douglas County Sheriff's deputies soon arrived, however, and gave everybody on site 10 minutes to disperse. Six people—including three from Minnesota—were arrested and taken to jail, where they were initially charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.
It was the first time anyone had been arrested while protesting construction in Wisconsin.
Patricia Hammel, a Wisconsin attorney providing legal support to the pipeline protesters, witnessed the first demonstration last week. The police were "pretty friendly," she said.
"They asked people to remove themselves from the machines," Hammel said. "They didn't want to arrest anyone, but I think Enbridge has prevailed on them to arrest people because some of the people arrested [Tuesday] were not locking themselves. They weren't doing anything except surpporting the people who were doing that and recording.
"Enbridge is not going to allow people to oppose them. That's the way they are."
The Minnesota Department of Commerce released its final environmental impact study on August 17. There will be a series of public hearings this fall, following which an administrative law judge will submit a recommendation for permits. The Public Utilities Commission will decide whether to grant them in the spring of 2018.