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Leech Lake Tribal Court: Hearing on Enbridge pipeline project set for today

Leech Lake Tribal Judge B.J. Jones has granted an injunction hearing by Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members seeking to revoke the permit for Enbridge Energy Partners to expand pipelines on Leech Lake tribal land.

Jones will hear the case beginning at 10 a.m. today in Leech Lake Tribal Court.

Four Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members filed a civil action in Leech Lake Tribal Court to stop the construction. In addition, about 700 people have submitted a petition to the Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee, also known as the Tribal Council, to hold a referendum on whether the Tribal Council agreement with Enbridge should stand. The agreement is a payment by Enbridge to Leech Lake of $10 million for the pipeline easement on reservation land.

Their goal is to stop Enbridge Energy from completing the Alberta Clipper pipeline to carry diluent, a petroleum product, from Alberta through this area to Superior, Wis. According to Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network, the plaintiffs will present evidence to show that the agreement between Enbridge and the Tribal Council "is not valid under tribal law because it violates tribal members' constitutional rights."

Denise Hamsher, director of public, government and regulatory affairs for Enbridge, said the company's goal is to make petroleum products available in the United States from a friendly neighboring country and lessen U.S. dependency on oil from the Mideast and other distant countries.

A full Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared for the project, involving the U.S. State Department as the line crosses an international border, and permits have been secured or are in the process of being secured.

Hamsher said more than 30 public meetings have been held along the pipeline route to inform residents of plans. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission granted Enbridge a certificate for the project on Dec. 29.

Construction of the pipeline expansion in this area is expected to begin this month with the granting of the final permit.

An IEN press release states that there is speculation that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is feeling pressure to delay because of intense scrutiny over high carbon oil and tribal issues.

Cobenais said during a July 29 protest at the Lake Bemidji waterfront that the concerns relate to the oil spills on tribal land. He also said producing the Alberta Tar Sands oil products that will flow along the new pipeline threaten the environment in Canada as well.

He said he believes that if the Tribal Court finds in favor of the plaintiffs, Enbridge would have to go around Leech Lake land. In that case, he said, he thinks Enbridge would cancel the project.

Hamsher said 1,400 landowners have negotiated easements with Enbridge over the 1,000 miles of pipeline route from northern Canada to Superior; 285 miles are in Minnesota.