ST. PAUL — Minnesota state regulators on Friday, March 13 announced that they will not hold public meetings on the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Comments on the project can still be submitted online and by mail, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced. But meetings planned for Bemidji on March 17, Grand Rapids on March 18 and Mahnomen on March 1 have all been canceled.

In a statement, the agency said it was "currently reviewing additional options to solicit public comments and share information."

The move was made in response to state Department of Health guidance to cancel large-scale public gatherings, according to an agency announcement. Other government agencies have similarly shut down their services in recent days as cases of COVID-19, the illness that this coronavirus causes, continue to be confirmed in Minnesota.

Fourteen people in Minnesota were confirmed to have the disease by Friday, and a further 550 have been tested. According to the World Health Organization, more than 130,000 cases have been confirmed globally in a pandemic that has killed almost 5,000 people.

While a majority of cases and deaths reported occurred in China, where the coronavirus broke out late last year, more than 1,600 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. It has spread to 47 states plus Washington, D.C., and killed 41 people.

The public meetings are standard in the regulatory process. They were intended to allow members of the public to voice their thoughts and feelings on several key certifications for Line 3 that have yet to be issued.

The original Line 3 pipeline is more than 50 years old and according to Canadian energy company Enbridge, its owner and operator, poses spill and structural risks in old age. Plans to replace parts of it with a new pipeline have stirred controversy.

Beginning in Canada and extending to Wisconsin, the pipeline currently cuts through the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations in northern Minnesota. It's replacement would take a slightly different path, sparring Leech Lake and the nearby White Earth Reservation but continuing to cross Fond du Lac.

The project has been alternately hailed as a job creator and criticized by those who fear it will be a polluter. Friday's announcement comes one month after the state Public Utilities Commission approved permits of its own for the project.