The Potluck

Opponents of Enbridge Line 3 pipeline shut down bridge in Duluth

By: - August 19, 2021 5:19 pm

Opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline temporarily shut down the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge on Aug. 19, 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

DULUTH — Line 3 opponents shut down the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge for about half an hour Thursday afternoon in protest of the oil pipeline Enbridge is reconstructing across northern Minnesota.

The protest on the bridge, which backed up traffic for blocks, came after a morning March for Manoomin — Ojibwe for wild rice. About 100 project opponents marched through downtown Duluth to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building in Canal Park to call on the agency to revoke a key project permit.

Project opponents have hoped that President Joe Biden would block Line 3 by revoking the Army Corps’ permit for the project or ordering it to be redone. Construction on Line 3 started in December following six years of permitting, review and litigation, and Enbridge says it’s more than 80% complete. The company expects the pipeline to carry oil by the end of 2021.

In a blow to Line 3 opponents, Biden’s administration has signaled it won’t halt construction, after urging a judge in June to toss out a legal challenge of the permit filed by environmental groups and the White Earth and Red Lake Nations. The tribes and nonprofits argue the federal agency should have conducted its own environmental impact statement, rather than relying on the state’s, and that it doesn’t sufficiently account for climate change. 

Thursday morning, protesters marched downtown on Superior Street behind an Honor the Earth tour bus. As the march reached Canal Park — Duluth’s restaurant- and shop-filled waterfront district — tourists wandered out of stores and gathered on sidewalks to watch. 

A few people standing near a T-shirt shop joined in chants of “You can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil.” Others took videos. Outside a Mexican restaurant, a teenager complained to her grandmother about the use of swear words in one chant. One elderly white man shook his fist as he ran out of a gas station and yelled, “I hope that bus is solar-powered. Idiots.”

Outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office, located next to the aerial bridge, the crowd chanted “open up” as organizers knocked on the office doors and peered inside.

A handful of participants hung a “Stop Line 3” sign from the lift bridge. The operator asked them to leave so he could lift the bridge for boats to pass, and more people rushed onto the bridge. There were a few confrontations between police and protesters as officers tried to block the bridge, but the officers soon backed away and let the group assemble there.

As the line of cars waiting to cross the bridge grew, one driver stepped out of her car and screamed expletives at the crowd. But Ann Feyen, who was driving home after doing errands, wasn’t bothered by the wait. She said she hasn’t participated in any protests against the project but has followed it closely.

“I’m glad they’re protesting,” Feyen said, adding that she found it “appropriate” to protest on the bridge because it crosses over Lake Superior, which project opponents worry could be harmed by a pipeline leak. 

Opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline marched through downtown Duluth and hung a “Stop Line 3” sign from the Aerial Lift Bridge on Aug. 19, 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

The group remained on the bridge until an Indigenous elder called on them to leave, reminding them that they were there to focus on the Corps permit, not protest the police. They formed a round dance, and much of the crowd dispersed within an hour.

Protesters “complied without incident” with police directions, and there were no arrests, according to a Duluth Police Department spokesperson.

Taysha Martineau, who organized the event, said the protest on the bridge wasn’t planned. It was an “autonomous group of people,” she said.

“We supported a diversity of tactics. There were many beautiful people here from many tribal nations, all expressing their concerns around this pipeline project and demanding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revoke the permits,” Martineau said.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.