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Enbridge forecasts stronger legal response to protests

An Enbridge oil tank near Berthold, N.D. (2014 file / Forum News Service)

Enbridge won't sit quietly through another protest — saying late Friday that it will press charges against protesters if there is a next time around.

Joining local unions in condemning the worksite takeovers, the Alberta-based energy giant spoke up from its Superior office following the second shutdown of construction on a segment of pipeline within the week.

"Any kind of actions that put people at risk will not be tolerated," spokeswoman Becky Haase wrote in a news release. "Enbridge plans to work with local law enforcement to prosecute anyone who endangers the safety and well-being of our workers."

Protesters identifying themselves as water protectors shut down work at construction sites adjacent to Douglas County Road W twice last week, drawing the Douglas County Sheriff's Office to the scene both times.

In each case, authorities reported they were there to monitor and talk with protesters, while acknowledging Enbridge's prerogative in pressing trespassing charges. No citations were issued or arrests made so far.

Even before Enbridge's announcement, authorities said they were prepared to act on criminal offenses. Friday's shutdown drew the Minnesota State Patrol and Carlton County Sheriff's Office.

A dozen-plus protesters, some with bandanas covering half their faces, appeared at the worksite Friday, streaming video onto social media. To date, they've crossed muddy tracts of land to reach heavy equipment, some locking themselves to highway-size backhoes and other heavy machinery.

In online calendar announcements, water protectors have described their worksite appearances as "non-violent direct action."

Ma'iingan Ikwe is a presence within the group, and she told the News Tribune after Friday's protest, "Last time we were out there (on Monday), Enbridge said they'd shut the line down 24 hours and they didn't, right? So we're showing them we honor our word regardless if they honor theirs."

The first protest stopped construction for two hours around lunchtime; the second was for a shorter amount of time.

"Of course it did," was Ikwe's response to Enbridge's intent to prosecute going forward.

Emphasizing that the Wisconsin Line 3 construction is permitted work, Enbridge's letter followed suit with a pair of Twin Ports trade unions that had made strong rebukes of the worksite intrusions after Friday's second protest.

Enbridge claimed an even stronger resistance. Haase described protesters as throwing rocks Friday while climbing onto moving equipment. Previous published accounts noted a broken window to one of the equipment cabs from Monday.

"This was an extremely dangerous situation; fortunately, no one was injured during this event," Haase said.

The new pipeline would replace Enbridge's existing 50-year-old Line 3 that crosses northern Minnesota on its route from Alberta to Superior. While construction has started in both Canada and Wisconsin, the review process in Minnesota remains ongoing.