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Day in court, day in protest: Line 3 protesters cited in August speak outside courthouse

(From left to right) Lois Noorgard, Theresa Jourdain and Bill Paulson file into Beltrami County Court on Friday. In August, 26 people were cited for disorderly conduct for a Line 3 protest that shut down a chunk of downtown Bemidji. The bulk of those cited demonstrated against the controversial oil pipeline project Friday before their court appearances. Joe Bowen | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI—For some Line 3 opponents, Friday was their day in court and another in a string of protests against the controversial oil pipeline project.

A few dozen people chanted and carried banners from the Rail River Folk School to Beltrami County court, where 22 people faced misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges they received Aug. 29 during a Line 3 protest that briefly shut down a chunk of downtown Bemidji.

At a small press conference outside the county building Friday, a series of speakers detailed their objections to the pipeline project on a swath of procedural, moral and environmental grounds. The new Line 3 would replace an aging section of Enbridge Energy Co.'s line that runs from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wis., via northern Minnesota.

Company officials and proponents say the project would be a necessary upgrade, but opponents—chief among them American Indian and environmental activists—worry it would harm the environment and tribal sovereignty.

"We're here because each of us made a decision to risk arrest," Margaret Levin, director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, told a group of about 35 people outside the courthouse. "We did this because of the threat that Line 3 poses to tribal sovereignty, to Indigenous rights, to Indigenous lives, to Minnesota's clean water and to our climate."

Club staff said the pipeline would cross through "critical ecological and cultural resources" and decried a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decision in June that granted the project a certificate of need.

"The Public Utilities Commission meeting was really a tremendous disappointment as an exercise in transparent, democratic process," said Scott Russell, a co-chair of the Beyond Oil and Tar Sands Committee with the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, who said commissioners hand-waved away a litany of concerns about the line. "The PUC seemed to arbitrarily bend the rules or redirect facts and recommendations in order to meet what seemed to be a predetermined decision."

On Aug. 29, more than 100 people blocked streets in downtown Bemidji to demonstrate their opposition to the pipeline project. After about two-and-a-half hours, police ordered the crowd to disperse and, ultimately, cited 26 people, 22 of whom appeared in Beltrami County court Friday. Of those, 20 pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and two pleaded not guilty.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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