Enbridge Energy officials stopped in Duluth Friday, attempting to rally support ahead of a major Line 3 replacement decision.

Before speaking to a crowd of more than 100 pipeline supporters, CEO Al Monaco talked to the News Tribune about new commitments the company is making to reassure the public its largest project to date is in Minnesota's best interest - something a state panel is expected to decide by the end of the month.

"This is an unprecedented level of support for our project. And frankly, (it's) because we're replacing an existing system with brand-new technology," Monaco said.

As a way to garner even more support, Enbridge is now offering to remove old Line 3 pipes if the landowner wants them gone, the CEO said, adding that he expects most landowners will just leave the pipes in the ground. Removing them would require additional digging and disruption.

"That's generally what happens: You deactivate, you clean, purge, continue to monitor. But we've heard feedback that some people may want to remove that line," Monaco said, adding Enbridge would pay for the removal of the pipes.

Monaco said the company would also make commitments to lessen the financial burden to counties after a tax court judge ruled last month that the Minnesota Department of Revenue overvalued Enbridge Energy's oil pipeline system by $3.2 billion from 2012 to 2014. The burden of paying refunds could fall on the 13 counties that the pipelines pass through. For some, it's more than their levy.

Enbridge also said it is spending $100 million to hire Native American workers and businesses for the Line 3 project. The program would "target opportunities for tribal nations on the U.S. side of the project, which is mostly Minnesota," Monaco said.

Company officials are spending the last few weeks ahead of the Minnesota Public Utility Commission's June 27 expected vote with supporters of the project throughout the state.

"All the heavy lifting has been done. Now it's in the PUC's hands," said Minnesotans for Line 3 leader Bob Shoneberger.

Meanwhile, opponents of the project will continue their organized efforts to stop the pipeline replacement and have the existing 50-year-old Line 3 removed.

"We are continuing to inform and educate our community about the threat Line 3 poses to our water, treaty rights, and climate for our future generations," said Debra Topping, a Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa member and self-described water protector.

On Monday, a group of religious leaders will deliver a letter to the PUC and Gov. Mark Dayton calling the Line 3 project a "violation of Indigenous treaty rights" while also arguing that the pipeline comes "at a time when climate change requires a transition to cleaner forms of energy." The letter had 542 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

The PUC will hold oral arguments June 18-19 while commission deliberations will be held June 26-27 in St. Paul.

Enbridge, based in Calgary, operates several pipelines that cut across northern Minnesota, connecting Alberta oil deposits and the company's terminal in Superior.

The Line 3 replacement would cross 337 miles of Minnesota carrying 760,000 barrels of oil per day, and the prefered route differs from the original line for much of that journey. An administrative law judge this spring recommended the replacement line follow the original route, which crosses two reservations.