BEMIDJI -- As action related to Enbridge's proposed Line 3 replacement was taken in the state's capital, a candidate for the U.S. Senate was talking up the project with supporters in Bemidji.

During a visit to the area on Wednesday, Republican Senate candidate Jason Lewis held a town hall event to answer questions about the project and declare his support for the work. Enbridge's proposed project will replace the existing Line 3 pipeline with a new one.

The original pipeline was installed in 1968 and is running at 50% capacity. Enbridge is planning to replace it with a pipeline that would move 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, through Minnesota, to a terminal in Superior, Wis.

According to information from Enbridge, the project is estimated at $2.6 billion and would create about 4,200 jobs.

On Tuesday evening, one night before Lewis spoke in Bemidji, the Minnesota Department of Commerce announced it would file an appeal to the project, alleging the state's Public Utilities Commission erred in granting Enbridge a certificate of need for the project. Department officials backed the decision by saying the commission shouldn't have granted the certificate in February because Enbridge didn't introduce a long-range demand forecast.

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This is the third appeal made by the Commerce Department. Following the announcement, the move was met by praise from tribal leaders and environmental groups, while Republican lawmakers and labor unions shared their disapproval.

"We've been supporting Line 3 from the get go," Lewis said. "This has been the most extensive environmental impact statement in Minnesota history. The PUC has voted twice for a certificate of need. No one is talking about a new pipeline anywhere, we're talking about replacing a dilapidated pipeline built in 1968 that is running at 50% capacity."

The first certificate of need was passed by the PUC in 2018. The commission approved another certificate in February this year to accommodate a revised environmental review.

Local legislator, District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, was also present during Wednesday's event. In his remarks, Eichorn called out the department and Gov. Tim Walz.

"No other state has a governor that would repeatedly challenge a $2.5 billion project that would bring us 4,200 family sustaining jobs during a recession," Eichorn said. "His agencies have approved this, and now we're going into a situation where two state agencies are suing each other, so ultimately we're suing ourselves, which is going to cost taxpayers millions of dollars, for something we can do safely."

District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, speaks at a town hall event held on Wednesday at the DoubleTree Inn. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, speaks at a town hall event held on Wednesday at the DoubleTree Inn. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

While Eichorn made his comments, about 30 minutes into the town hall, the event was interrupted by a couple of protesters. One of the individuals said building the pipeline is a violation of Native American treaty rights.

In a statement directly from Enbridge on the latest appeal, the company said "The Line 3 replacement project has undergone six years of process, more than 70 public meetings, numerous comment periods, and a 13,500-page environmental impact statement. The project's EIS certificate of need and route permit were all recently reaffirmed by the PUC based on the substantial evidence in the record that this project is needed."

Enbridge went on to state that it is "disappointed that a part of the Walz administration has chosen to pursue an appeal especially when the two PUC commissioners the governor appointed voted in favor of the project. That said, we remain confident that the courts will reaffirm the PUC's decisions."

Lewis visited Bemidji earlier this year for a town hall on immigration and refugees. A career radio host, Lewis is a former Congressman who represented Minnesota's 2nd District from 2016-2018 before losing the seat to Rep. Angie Craig.

In 2020, Lewis is running to defeat U.S. Sen. Tina Smith. Formerly the Minnesota lieutenant governor, Smith was appointed to the Senate seat by former Gov. Mark Dayton and won a special election in 2018 to complete the term.