Community Efforts Delay Sandpiper Deadline


By Brett Larson, December 5, 2014

The Minisinaakwaang (East Lake) community and Mille Lacs Band DNR are receiving credit for helping to delay approval of the Enbridge, Inc. Sandpiper Pipeline Project. The 610-mile, 24-inch pipeline would stretch from Tioga in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, to Superior, Wisconsin, running through the East Lake region and other native lands, potentially endangering wetlands and wild rice beds.

On September 11, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3-2 to order additional study of six alternate routes for the pipeline. Most alternate routes would follow existing pipeline corridors or highways.

The Honor the Earth organization, which has been leading efforts to stop the Sandpiper and other pipelines, sent representatives to East Lake with a dish and several gifts during the community’s fall ceremonial dance in October. Honor the Earth’s spiritual leader gave credit to the community’s spiritual efforts for helping to delay the project.

They were especially grateful to Algin and Harvey GoodSky Jr., who participated in Honor the Earth’s 200-mile “Love Water Not Oil” in August. The ride began at Rice Lake and stopped for lunch and a community potluck at East Lake Community Center before continuing west along the proposed pipeline route.

Michaa Aubid has also been active in protesting the pipeline (as well as mining activities in the region). The East Lake rice committee has sent letters opposing the project because it would endanger rice beds in the Sandy Lake and Rice Lake watersheds. “Rice can’t handle an environmental disaster,” he said.

Michaa describes himself as an environmentalist as well as an advocate for tribal rights. The pipeline is not just an Indian issue; other environmental groups have joined forces with bands to fight the project. “The pipeline jeopardizes everybody’s fish and water,” he concluded.

The proposed pipeline route was also opposed in an August 7 letter from Mille Lacs Band Commissioner of Natural Resources Susan Klapel. Susan said, “The proposed route for the Sandpiper pipeline project borders our Minisinaakwaang (East Lake) Community and threatens the Big Sandy Lake and Rice Lake watersheds, in which the Band’s members and their ancestors have gathered wild rice and harvested other natural resources for generations.”

Her letter points out that the environmental impact report on the project did not consider possible effects on wild rice waters or other resources of importance to the Band. She requested that other routes be chosen and that analysis should be conducted of all routes to determine potential impacts on wild rice.

Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin has expressed her opposition to the pipeline to Gov. Mark Dayton and the U.S. Department of Justice. She told the Inaajimowin in August, “The level of risk to our water, land, wild rice and resources is simply unacceptable.”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also opposes the route, saying it crosses many water bodies with little to no access downstream if a spill required cleanup. The route is also opposed by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council, and Friends of the Headwaters, a group of concerned citizens based in Park Rapids. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also asked that all six routes be studied.

Bakken oil is considered highly volatile. A train loaded with oil from the Bakken region derailed and exploded in Quebec in July of 2013, killing 47 people and destroying 30 buildings in the town of Lac-Megantic.

Enbridge, Inc. was also responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. A pipeline burst, spilling 877,000 gallons of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. Susan Klapel told Inaajimowin in August that Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, totaling almost seven million gallons of oil.

The MPCA and Minnesota DNR also expressed concern that if the Sandpiper route is approved, Enbridge will seek additional approval to expand the pipeline. If the Sandpiper route is eventually approved by the Public Utilities Commission, there would still be additional hearings, route reviews, possible modifications, and a trial-like proceeding before a state administrative law judge.

Related article: A Wild Ride with the GoodSky Boys

Photo courtesy of: Honor the Earth