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Crow Wing County attorney talks Line 3 pipeline project

Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan gives an update at the Tuesday, March 19, committee of the whole meeting of commissioners Bill Brekken, Steve Barrows, Rosemary Franzen, Doug Houge (not pictured) and Paul Koering about the controversial Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project that crosses part of the county. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

A proposed crude oil pipeline replacement project may cross just the northwest corner of Crow Wing County, but the controversy around the project extends beyond geographical boundaries.

The Enbridge Energy Line 3 pipeline replacement project has been dogged by controversy, with its proponents claiming it will create jobs and opponents saying it's an environmental risk.

"This is just intended to be a 10,000-foot overview today, particularly for the newer commissioners, who haven't been involved with it," Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan told the county board at the Tuesday, March 19, committee of the whole meeting in Brainerd.

The Enbridge-preferred route would snake its way from Cass County into Crow Wing, threading its way between Clough and Jail lakes in Gail Lake Township and exiting via Timothy Township.

"The county was approached a little over a year ago, so they were talking to our highway department, they were talking to our land services," said Ryan, who is the legal adviser for the Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners and county departments.

Enbridge has been transporting crude oil for decades to U.S. refineries through its pipelines. Line 3 is part of the Enbridge system known as the Mainline System and was built in the 1960s.

Crude oil is refined into petroleum products for everyday use—from fuel for automobiles and oil to heat homes to clothes and household products.

"As you know, Enbridge is looking to put in a new pipeline on Line 3 through Minnesota, and so it's got a lot of headlines and lots of news and all that stuff," Ryan said.

Line 3 is a 1,097-mile pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wis., and operates below its designated capacity, according to information provided by Enbridge.

"As you know now they've got their proposed line. They've got some of their required permits from the states and the fed," Ryan said. "If we were building a highway or a county road and we want to realign that road by going over other people's properties, we need the easements or we need to take the land through eminent domain or, through agreement, buy it from them. ... Pipeline is the same way."

Replacing Line 3 would "maintain high safety standards, reduce future maintenance activities and the resulting disruptions to landowners and the environment," according to Enbridge.

The project includes installing a 36-inch diameter pipeline to replace the 34-inch diameter pipeline generally along the existing Line 3 pipeline corridor from Joliette, N.D., to Clearbrook.

"It's my understanding that they still have more permits they have to get, so until the state government and the federal government give them all their permits and permissions to go through, they can't build anything anyway," Ryan said. "Our involvement (with this particular project) is that a small portion of the pipeline is going to come through Crow Wing County. ... Pursuant to Minnesota law ... once they get that routing permit, they have the right of eminent domain."

Eminent domain refers to the government's power to take private property and convert it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides the government may do this only if they provide "just compensation" to the landowners.

"Just like the county has eminent domain, so if someone doesn't want to sell their land to us or give us an easement, we can take them to court," Ryan said of analogous county road projects. "So there's really no point—in my mind, as your legal adviser—of opposing this because we can't win in court anyway. ... Once they get all their permits in place—assuming that happens—they're going to get to put this pipeline through Crow Wing County whether we like it or not."

The replaced pipeline will be deactivated once the replacement pipeline is installed, tested and commissioned for service, according to Enbridge.

Line 3 opponents, however, have deemed the project unnecessary or are concerned about the environmental impacts of its construction, while the project's supporters have argued the existing pipeline is a safety hazard or disaster waiting to happen.

"We've focused our efforts on making sure that we've protected the county's interests, the citizens' interests and making sure that the environmental protections are in place and the insurance to cover it if there's a spill. We're focused on that side of it," Ryan said. "The liability questions are being looked at, the insurance questions are being looked at ... in order for us to be comfortable to ultimately bring this to you at the Crow Wing County Board at a regular board meeting ... for consideration and approval."

After deviating from the original Line 3 route, the replacement pipeline would follow other existing pipelines and electric power lines for more than 75 percent of the route east of Clearbrook to Superior, according to Enbridge.

"A pipeline is considered a utility, just like you've got Crow Wing Power Co-op up here and you have all those power lines, that's considered a utility," Ryan said. "The pipeline is kind of in that same boat ... so when they want to replace something like they want to do, they have to go through all the various administrative steps with the state government and with the federal government."

About 360 miles of the proposed replacement pipeline in the United States is to be determined by final route approval in Minnesota, with construction originally expected to start last year and an estimated in-service date of this year.

"Enbridge's $2.9 billion private investment in the U.S.—$2.6 billion of it in Minnesota—will create well-paying jobs, an economic boost for local communities during construction, and local community investments and tax contributions for many years to come," according to Enbridge. "The pipeline has not enjoyed 100 percent support in Crow Wing County, from the citizens of Crow Wing County and those that reside here, but that's probably no surprise to you," Ryan told the commissioners.

Pre-construction activities such as surveying, land acquisition, engineering and design, started in 2014.

"When they want to come through Crow Wing County, whether it be publicly owned land, tax-forfeited land or privately owned land, they have to get permission to come across that land," Ryan said. "If it's going to go over tax-forfeited land, Crow Wing County manages all the tax-forfeited land in Crow Wing County, and so in order for it to go over that land, we basically have to approve that they can cross tax-forfeited land."

Learn more

To learn more about the Enbridge Energy Line 3 pipeline replacement project, visit or email

Contact the Line 3 Replacement Project team at 855-788-7812, or email the team at, for detailed maps about the proposed project.