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Leech Lake tribal member Sandy Nichols tells Minnesota Capitol reporters that she fears pollution will follow the construction of two pipelines across northern Minnesota. With her are Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network (center) and Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt. (Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau)

American Indians promise pipeline fight

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American Indians promise pipeline fight
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

ST. PAUL -- Some American Indians threaten to stop efforts to build a pair of northern Minnesota oil pipelines.

Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt on Wednesday said Indian pipeline opponents "definitely" will attempt to block construction any way they can.

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"We have our rights..." said Bellecourt, an American Indian Movement founder, "particularly when it is going to pollute our land."

Environmentalists and Indian efforts to derail the pipeline project have failed to stop construction so far as Minnesota utility regulators and the courts have rejected their claims. The state Public Utilities Commission last week gave its final approval for Enbridge Energy to go ahead with the pipeline project.

Enbridge's Denise Hamsher said construction will begin this summer, with oil expected to flow in slightly more than a year.

The pipelines are scheduled to be built within feet of existing Enbridge pipes from northwestern Minnesota to Superior, Wis., next to Duluth.

The 285-mile-long pipelines will cross Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake, Polk, Clearwater, Beltrami, Hubbard, Cass, Itasca, Aitkin, St. Louis and Carlton counties.

A 36-inch pipe is to carry oil from a tar sands site in northern Alberta, Canada. A 20-inch pipe is planned to return an oil thinner material to Canada for re-use.

The Minnesota pipeline, with a small segment in North Dakota, is part of a project to carry oil to Chicago.

The Twin Cities-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Bemidji-based Indigenous Environmental Network brought well-known Indian activists Bellecourt and Winona LaDuke to a state Capitol news conference to protest the pipelines.

LuDuke, a one-time Green Party vice presidential candidate, said tar-sands oil produces too much pollution.

The environmentalist from western Minnesota's White Earth Indian Reservation also said Minnesota should reject any pipeline crossing the state.

Bellecourt was more aggressive, promising attempts to block pipeline construction across reservation land.

The pipelines would cross two Minnesota reservations -- Leech Lake and Fond du Lac. Both have accepted Enbridge payments in exchange for permission to cross their land.

The Fond du Lac price is being kept secret. Hamsher said it is tied to an unrelated legal settlement and both sides agreed to not reveal the size of the payment.

The Leech Lake Tribal Council voted 4-0 in March to accept $10 million for 20 years of Enbridge land rights.

Hamsher said fewer than a dozen private land owners have yet to reach agreements with Enbridge; some are in court as the company seeks eminent domain rights to cross the land. The company has reached agreements with about 1,400 landowners.

Up to five Enbridge pipes already cross northern Minnesota, generally with land rights 125 feet wide. Hamsher said the new pipes would need another 40 feet of rights from landowners.

A former Enbridge heavy-equipment operator, Sandy Nichols, said she fears pollution if the two pipelines are constructed.

"Those pipes are buried, so many people don't understand," said Nichols, a Leech Lake member.

Nichols said Leech Lake leaders accepted the $10 million because "they are in a financial bind." Leech Lake leaders did not return a call seeking comment.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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