CROSSLAKE-It's not every day a giant papier-mache loon is seen on the grounds of the Crosslake Community Center, but Wednesday was anything but ordinary for the small city north of Brainerd.
Supporters of the Line 3 replacement project proposed by Enbridge to carry oil and local environmentalists converged on the town to hear and be heard at two public hearings.
"We're trying to target Gov. Mark Dayton to get him to speak up against Line 3," said Jeanne Fahlstrom of Minneapolis, who, along with some American Indians, set up "Big Sandy" the loon.
The Line 3 replacement project-from Joliette, N.D., to Superior, Wis.-stretches 364 miles in the U.S. and would involve a pipe 36 inches in diameter to be built pending regulatory approval.
Construction on the $2.6 billion project would begin in 2018, with Line 3 in service in 2019. But concerns over the jobs created by the project versus the environmental risks threaten to derail the project, which began with surveying, land acquisition, and engineering and design in 2014.
Nancy Norr is the director of regional development for Minnesota Power, an electric utility serving northern and central Minnesota. She is also chairwoman of Jobs for Minnesotans, a nonprofit coalition of business labor and community leaders.
"We exist to support major economic investment opportunities in the state of Minnesota that will help put people to work in middle-class jobs," said Norr, who manned an informational table at the afternoon hearing at the Crosslake Community Center.
Crosslake was just the latest of 18 meetings in nine locations across the region, where people could offer testimony on the need for the Line 3 replacement project being proposed by Enbridge to transport North American crude oil to refineries.
"This is an important pipeline in a system of affordable, reliable energy," Norr said of the proposed pipeline replacement, which will follow other existing pipelines and electric power lines for more than 70 percent of the route east of Clearbrook to Superior, Wis.
Norr also cited a University of Minnesota Duluth analysis of the estimated economic impact of the project, which stated that it would be about $2 billion for the state with more than 86,000 jobs created during the construction phase of the project.
"Most of those jobs would be created along the pipeline route," Norr said outside the center. "Those are jobs based in Minnesota-they may be headquartered out of the Duluth area, out of the St. Cloud area, out of the Brainerd area-but the impact spreads along the route."
Security at the afternoon public hearing was tight, with a visible presence of Crosslake and Crow Wing County law enforcement officials standing outside the entrance of the Crosslake Community Center, which banned the use of cameras, cellphones or video recorders inside.
"Although there have been strong opposing in views ... the demeanor has managed to be civil and fairly well controlled until Duluth," Norr said of prior public hearings. "The evening hearing got so unruly and disruptive by a small group of activists that a judge had to call a halt to it."
Many at Crosslake wore T-shirts stating on the front, "We support safe energy transportation," and on the back "We support replacing Line 3," which was at odds with others who wore stickers that read "Love water not oil."
Norr said of the proposed project, "This is offering the state of Minnesota and people with environmental concerns something exactly what their concerns are about. This is about replacing a 65-year-old pipeline just like replacing a road, a bridge, that has seen its useful life."
In a recent guest opinion piece in the Brainerd Dispatch by John Swanson of Duluth, who is vice president of major projects for Enbridge, he anticipated 6,000 integrity digs in the state would be required to maintain Line 3 safety over the next 15 years.
"It's actually more disruptive to the environment to conduct those maintenance digs to replace the line with state-of-the-art materials and technology," said Norr, who has been to 12 other hearings regarding the Enbridge proposal, including the Wednesday hearings in Crosslake.
Lake-lovers and Enbridge supporters filled the center's gymnasium, which had a maximum capacity of 342, at the three-hour afternoon hearing. Two hours later, another three-hour evening hearing began at 6 p.m.
Enbridge submitted an application to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for a Line 3 expansion and replacement crude oil pipeline to be constructed along a new corridor of about 130 miles from Park Rapids to Carlton.
About 35 miles of this corridor would cross the Pine River Watershed, according to research brought forth by Whitefish Area Property Owners Association President Tom Watson at a Crosslake City Council meeting earlier this month.
"The existing Line 3 never went through this process when it was built," Watson said outside of the community center of the 1960s pipeline. Watson said the Line 3 replacement project proposal uses the same corridor as the Sandpiper proposal withdrawn in 2015.
Barr Engineering, a contractor to Enbridge, did studies in 2014 and identified Norway Lake, Roosevelt Lake and the Whitefish Chain of Lakes as three area lakes on the proposed route at risk during a potential oil spill.
"When one lake is affected, they are all affected," Therese Kunz of Outing told organizers of the hearings and the crowd, who waved blue-colored swatches of cloth to show support of anyone who spoke against the project.
"Our pristine waterways are not only 'the good life,' but they are our way of life. ... And if there is a leak-and it's probably 'when,' not 'if'-no matter how small, it will affect this area in such an adverse way that it would change our lives forever. I feel the risk is too great, and I implore you to choose another route."
Enbridge states it takes preventative measures to promote "safe, reliable operation" of its liquid petroleum pipelines and related facilities, including the use of high-quality steel and anti-corrosion coatings in constructing pipelines, but some objectors remain unswayed.
"This area has some of the best waters in Minnesota," Watson said. "It is a location for a lake trout habitat on Big Trout (Lake), one of the few that's away from the Canadian border, with deep, cold water. It's a terrific recreation area with a large amount of boat traffic from the Twin Cities."
The existing Line 3 is a 1,097-mile pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wis., that currently operates below its designed capacity, according to Enbridge officials. Line 3 will continue to operate while the replacement pipeline is installed, if approved.
"This is a significant area both for people's desire to have a good time (and) to go to a destination that is attractive," Watson said. "And in many cases, like my wife's family, her family has been up here since 1912, which is well over a hundred years."
The PUC is considering a certificate of need and a route permit for the Line 3 project. The Crosslake hearings are one of nine hearing locations around the state, will give the public an opportunity to comment before the PUC makes a decision.
"The economy of this area-based on travel, tourism, second homeowners, et cetera-is three-quarters of a million dollars a year in economic benefit, and it's an annuity, it happens every year and it grows," Watson said of activities such as hunting, fishing and snowmobiling.
"It generates a third of a million dollars in tax revenue-that's local tax, that's sales tax to Minnesota, that's income tax from the businesses and persons."
The replacement pipeline will be deactivated but will still remain in place once a replacement pipeline is installed, tested and commissioned for service. Crude oil is refined into petroleum used daily as car fuel or heating oil for homes.
"Enbridge needs to convincingly demonstrate they are adding value, where the benefits of saying yes to this project exceeds the cost associated with any risks that would have a detrimental impact on what we currently have, in terms of land use," Watson said of oil spills.