BELTRAMI COUNTY -- With construction of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline replacement seemingly imminent after recently approved permits, the Red Lake and White Earth Nations filed a motion Nov. 25 with the Public Utilities Commission to expedite a stay of its Line 3 route permit. The tribes cited COVID-19 infection concerns as reason for doing so.

In recent weeks, Enbridge has been granted permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The legal motion states “a stay is necessary to protect the Minnesota Courts of Appeals Jurisdiction” process, and cites additional threats of irreparable harm to the tribes and others that will be caused by construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that infection rates have been higher along the pipeline’s proposed route and among Native American communities.

On Monday, the MPCA approved a final construction storm water permit for the proposed 340-mile pipeline replacing the existing line. Once complete, the pipeline would move 760,000 barrels of oil (31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wis., following a new route through much of northern Minnesota. The segments in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already complete.

The projects' supporters cheered the news Monday while opponents said they would continue fighting to block the line's construction.

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According to Joe Plumer, Tribal Attorney for Red Lake, “The administrative record is replete with evidence of the irreparable harm that the L3RP would inflict on tribes. In addition, employment of thousands of construction workers to build the project during the currently raging COVID-19 pandemic will likely accelerate the spread of infection, sickness, and death through northern Minnesota, including within tribal communities and tribal members, thereby creating irreparable harm.”

White Earth Tribal Attorney Frank Bibeau said, “We need a stay to protect the legal process, and we need a stay to protect our communities. The legal record enumerates the tremendous impacts to the natural environment that the L3RP would have on northern Minnesota’s environment, the people and the public interest, and on the indigenous and otherwise who live along the northern Minnesota pipeline route.”

The stay motion concludes that if the PUC allows construction to proceed before the court rules, it will limit and lessen the Appellate Court’s jurisdiction in the Line 3 matter -- and render appeals by the tribes and others moot.

Current appeals by Friends of the Headwaters, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Honor the Earth, the Youth Climate Intervenors, The Sierra Club, and Minnesota’s Department of Commerce, are still before the state’s Appellate Court.

Enbridge has been staging equipment along the planned route in anticipation of permit approval. When asked Monday, Enbridge did not offer a specific start date to construction but said “construction can now begin” in an emailed statement to Forum News Service.

Once work begins, the company expects the project will take six to nine months to complete.