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Our View: In economic impact, Line 3 crushed all projections

Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer: "Not only were the opponents wrong, they were wrong to an amazing scale."

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A pipeline worker watches a protest from a Line 3 worksite near Reponen Road near Sawyer on Jan. 22, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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In Thief River Falls, Minnesota, Mayor Brian Holmer heard the moans and cries of the naysayers and opponents. They were quite vocal with their claims early on in the Line 3 Replacement Project that it would have only “temporary benefits” for his and other communities across northern Minnesota and that “the promises of economic investment were way overstated,” as the mayor recalled last week.

“We heard this time and time again,” Holmer said, participating in the announcement of an independent study that details how Line 3’s billions of dollars of construction investment not only met economic expectations but far surpassed them. Positive bottom-line impacts were felt and enjoyed statewide, the study’s findings show.

In Holmer’s Thief River Falls, main-street and other businesses were able to stay open during the pandemic shutdown — and even thrive, with the need to hire additional employees and the opportunity to invest in properties and operations.

“When the final permits were issued and work started, so much changed in such an immediate and positive way in my community. People had jobs. They were working,” Mayor Holmer reported. “Not only were the opponents wrong, they were wrong to an amazing scale. … At a time when doors for businesses in other communities were shutting, Line 3 changed that in my community.”

The story was similar in Clearbrook, Minnesota, as just another example from along the pipeline-construction route.

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“We are still feeling the positive impact of what is still an amazing project,” Clearbrook Mayor Dylan Goodge said at the announcement, held virtually. “When you look at this report and see that as many as 14,000 people were working on Line 3 at one time, it’s beyond amazing. It truly is. When you see how much was invested into our economy, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of what happened. Yet we all saw it firsthand. Many people here were able to get back to work. Others came here from around the country to do great work, discover our community, and lift up our community. … There are some who will never be OK with Line 3 being replaced. This report, the data, and the people it represents have a different point of view that today we can all share.”

Roughly half the workers on the Line 3 project were from the 16 counties through which the pipeline passes. Employee wages and benefits totaled more than $1.7 billion, according to the study. The project originally was expected to employ 8,600 workers with a similar number of spinoff jobs in support of the project and its workers. But an average of 4,157 jobs ended up being created each and every one of its seven years.

In addition, the investment originally projected at $2 billion came in at “an impressive $5 billion of total economic impact,” as summarized by Lisa Bodine, chair of APEX, or the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, a private economic development-promoting agency based in Duluth.

“Our projections proved to be quite conservative,” Bodine said. “Just take a minute and let those numbers set in: $5 billion total in economic impact, much of those dollars going directly into Northeastern Minnesota counties and Douglas County in Northwestern Wisconsin. The project surpassed all of the economic-impact projections and created family-sustaining jobs for Minnesotans. It’s clear that large-scale industrial projects are critical to continued growth and success not only in our APEX region but also in the entire state of Minnesota.”

While APEX has long been an unabashed cheerleader for and supporter of the Line 3 replacement — just as it advocates for other responsible projects in the name of job creation and bolstering local economies — the agency contacted an “unbiased research entity” for its economic-impact study. The analysis was done by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Labovitz School, whose professional reputation and credibility are long established and stellar. The bureau relied on primary sources of data and information, in particular from Enbridge Energy itself as the pipeline’s owner. As a result, its findings can be relied on as accurate.

As the News Tribune reported, “The study did not consider the social or environmental impacts of the project; its purpose was to solely estimate the economic impacts of replacing three segments of Line 3.”

A study shows during peak construction in 2021, Line 3 employment reached over 14,400 jobs and surpassed overall economic projections.

The study additionally didn’t consider the many project opponents who endangered workers and themselves by illegally trespassing, damaging machinery, climbing inside pipes, attaching themselves to equipment, and carrying out other acts of defiance that were anything but peaceful protest. Those considerations are now the concern of the courts.

“Too often people do anything to stop these projects,” said Mayor Holmer. “Not only did it make sense to replace the old pipeline, but my community also needed the jobs. We needed the investment, and this was going to have a positive impact on the local economy.”

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The study was all about the economic impact, which, as it turned out, was impressive — far more impressive and impactful than anyone imagined or projected.

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