Four Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members are seeking Tribal Court action to halt the construction of an oil pipeline.
In addition, close to 700 band members have signed a petition requesting a binding referendum to decide whether the Tribal Council should abide by the agreement between Enbridge Energy and the Leech Lake Band for expansion and rights of way easements for the pipeline to carry oil from Canada.
The plaintiffs in the civil action, dated July 21, are Elizabeth Sherman, Sandra Nichols, Vikki Howard and Harry Greene. They have requested a restraining order against construction of the Enbridge "Alberta Clipper and Southern Diluent Pipelines" within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation.
The plaintiffs also request removal of the original pipeline in place since 1949. They are hoping to reverse the May 14 Leech Lake Tribal Council agreement to the expansion of the pipeline in a 20-year lease with Enbridge for $10 million.
Meanwhile, Enbridge is awaiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's signature on a permit to begin construction. The signing is expected early next month, according to a letter from the plaintiffs to Leech Lake Tribal Judge Joe Plumer. Plumer assigned the lawsuit to Leech Lake Tribal Judge B.J. Jones.
Although the plaintiffs and Marty Cobenais of the Indiugenous Environmental Network said they served the notice of civil action at the Bemidji Enbridge office, Denise Hamsher, director of public, government and regulatory affairs for Enbridge, said the company has not been formally served as of Wednesday.
Hamsher said Enbridge has approval for the expansion from the Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin public utility commissions, 1,400 landowners and the Leech Lake Tribal Council.
"We have to respect the government that's been elected," Hamsher said in a telephone interview from the Superior, Wis., Enbridge headquarters.
She also noted that there have been 30 public meetings in the last two years to discuss and answer questions about the project.
"The suggestion that this hasn't been looked at carefully is just not fair," Hamsher said. "These are big projects. Sometimes you can't please everybody involved."
Frank Bibeau, legal director for the Leech Lake Band, agreed with Hamsher that the issue has been thoroughly discussed. He also expressed doubt about some of the points in the lawsuit. For example, the petitioners request a written remediation plan, but he said that would be something Enbridge would work out with state and federal government agencies.
He said Friday that the tribal land involved in the pipeline expansion is about three acres; the rest is privately held property or land owned by other entities. The pipeline expansion would cover a 40-wide corridor adjacent to the existing pipeline.
"They're asking things of the wrong parties," Bibeau said.
Hamsher said 3,000 workers, some of whom would be Leech Lake Band members, are waiting to work on the pipeline expansion.
Bibeau cited job fairs where tribal members were recruited for the project.
Cobenais said the plaintiffs, under the title "In Zha Wen Dun Aki" meaning in Ojibwe "Loving Mother Earth," seeks to stop Enbridge from transporting "dirty Tar Sands oil" in the new pipelines.
Hamsher said alternative forms of energy are not adequate to meet the country's needs and she thinks most people approve of Enbridge securing a supply of oil from a friendly neighbor, Canada.
"What they want not to happen is the Tar Sands," Bibeau said, referring to the Canadian oil resource. "If we were to stop the pipeline, we're not going to stop the Tar Sands."
Cobenais said a protest of the pipeline expansion is scheduled for 1-6 p.m. July 29 at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. He also encourages people to write to Clinton urging her not to grant the permit at www.dirtytarsands.com.