Fond du Lac Band Faces Impossible Choice in Line 3 RoutingTweet
August 5, 2018 – The exact route of the new Line 3 pipeline is still uncertain. On Thursday, August 2, attorneys representing the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa filed a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) stating that the Band is “willing to consider an agreement with Enbridge” that would allow construction of the new Line 3 on the Fond du Lac Reservation. But media coverage of this announcement failed to explain the details of the situation, and on Friday, Fond du Lac Tribal Council Chairperson Kevin Dupuis Sr. said in a statement to the Duluth News Tribune that reports of the Band’s position “are being misunderstood.”
For some, the headlines may imply that Fond du Lac is “selling out” and cooperating with Enbridge to accept another pipeline on their lands, but in fact, the Band’s assertive opposition to this pipeline has never wavered. (For reference, see the Band’s petition to intervene in the State of Minnesota’s regulatory process, and Chairperson Dupuis’s op-ed article, both from May 2017). Despite the Band’s opposition, however, the State’s approval of the project has put the Band in an impossible situation. Tragically, a decision to allow the new Line 3 on its reservation may be the Band’s best option for minimizing impacts to the resources its members depend on for survival.
When the PUC approved the permits for a new Line 3 on June 28th, 2018, they voted 3-2 to approve Enbridge’s preferred route, which was specifically designed to weave its way around all the reservations in Northern Minnesota, and instead open a new energy corridor through the wild rice beds and lake country of the 1855 and 1854 ceded territories. Then, in the final hours of a 5-day meeting, they gave Fond du Lac the option to choose between two short modifications to that route: Route Segment Alternative 21, which would wind around the Fond du Lac reservation but still impact the Band’s watersheds and the 1854 ceded territory, or Route Segment Alternative 22, which would join the existing Enbridge mainline corridor where 6 pipelines already cut across the reservation. In response, Fond du Lac attorney Sara van Norman asked the PUC:
“Which circle of hell would you like us to stop in? That’s where we are. Making a choice between these things is impossible, and it’s unfair that we have to. We don’t think we should be here. We don’t think you should be here.” (Watch Van Norman’s comments at 5:27:40 in this video archive of the 6/28/18 PUC meeting).
The PUC gave Fond du Lac 60 days to decide between RSA 21 and RSA 22 and negotiate with Enbridge on terms. The Band now faces a choice between one pipeline corridor or two – between expanding one of the 6 lines they already have, or clear-cutting a new corridor where no line has ever been before. Fond du Lac tribal members retain inalienable, constitutionally protected, and federally affirmed rights to hunt, fish, and gather in the 1854 ceded territory, and the Band retains and exercises unique rights to co-manage those natural resources along with other levels of government. Because of this, from the Band’s perspective as protectors of the environment, there is no meaningful distinction between on-reservation and off-reservation resources within the 1854 ceded territory.
Immediately after the PUC’s approval of the project, the Fond du Lac Band responded with a formal statement:
“The Fond du Lac Band is prepared to appeal this decision and we will evaluate our options as we receive the full written decision from the Commission…A broad coalition of Tribal and other voices have come together to oppose this project because of the uniquely potent threats it poses to natural resources critical to both Indians and non-Indians in Northern Minnesota. It is imperative that we not allow places like Big Sandy Lake, the Moosehorn River, and the Fond du Lac State Forest to be sacrificed so that a Canadian oil company can profit. The 1854 Ceded Territory is one of the last great places left on this Earth, and the Band will stand with our neighbors and continue to defend the Ojibwe homeland against all the threats it may face.”
Fond du Lac is one of the 5 directly impacted Ojibwe bands that have intervened in the state’s regulatory process for Line 3, along with the Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, and White Earth Bands. The existing Enbridge Mainline corridor was first established through Northern Minnesota in the 1950s, crossing the Leech Lake and Fond du lac Reservations, and its four original pipelines (Lines 1, 2, 3, and 4) are severely corroded and deteriorated. Both Leech Lake and Fond du Lac signed new agreements with Enbridge in 2009, accepting millions of dollars to allow the construction of two new pipelines in that corridor – the Alberta Clipper and its diluent companion, Line 13. But times have changed, and tribal governments are increasingly opposed to new pipelines on their lands.
For example, in January 2017, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe in northeastern Wisconsin voted unanimously not to renew easements for the Enbridge pipelines crossing its reservation, and to evict Enbridge from its land. In January 2018, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in Northwestern Minnesota rescinded a 2015 agreement with Enbridge in which the company was to pay the band $18.5 million for a small parcel of tribal land on which their Mainline pipeline corridor had been trespassing for decades. Two months later, Red Lake voted to evict Enbridge from that land.
In his clarification statement this past Friday, Fond du Lac Chairperson Dupuis again summarized the impossible choice that the PUC has given the Band: “As a sovereign nation, we are confounded that we are being forced to choose between two evils as both routes pass through our lands — the Fond du Lac Reservation and the 1854 Ceded Territories…There is no perfect outcome here, all remaining options threaten the environment for all and livelihood of the indigenous people of Minnesota.” He said the Band is holding community meetings throughout the month to seek input from tribal members, and reiterated that nothing has been decided.
The PUC has still not issued its final Line 3 order, as it is still deliberating about the specific permit conditions for the Certificate of Need, and waiting on Fond du Lac and Enbridge to conclude their negotiations. Also, the US Army Corps of Engineers has still not begun its public input process for permits required for the new Line 3 to cross wetlands and navigable waters. Nevertheless, Enbridge says it expects to start construction in November.
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