(HILL CITY, MINN)          In June when protestors attacked the Two Inlet pump station near Park Rapids, a fire member(s) from Hill City spent 13 hours there supporting other law enforcement agencies who had to cut loose dozens of protestors who had physically attached themselves to construction equipment.  This also meant some Hill City first-responders were at the same time not available to help in case they were needed in their own community.  It’s something that is happening more often as Line 3 protests continue and are getting more aggressive.

“It’s an extreme challenge with the short staff we already have,” said Ron Saxton, a member of the Hill City Fire Department. “It’s all across the state that rural fire departments, EMS, all these volunteer organizations are really struggling to fill their rosters. Now we have groups bringing in people to protests like this that shouldn’t even happen. What people don’t realize is the risks if there was a car crash, medical emergency, or anything like that in our community and we have our fire trucks tied up on the pipeline dealing with the protestors.”

“We don’t want to push guys too far and we don’t want to ask too much of our people who serve our community,” said Adam Krog, a member of the Clearbrook Fire Department. “It’s a little bit scary, frankly to think about having to respond to situations where we will have to be taking care of people who come here with bad intentions. We’re used to working with people who are in bad scenarios, people who are having a bad day and have to call the fire department when they need help.  We are happy to help anyone in need, but it’s a shame to think people would intentionally create dangerous situations.”

As Line 3 opposition groups continue to lose legal challenges, the intensity of the protests they are organizing at construction sites are increasing. Groups of people continue to trespass on sites, vandalize equipment, and use complicated devices to lock themselves to machinery.  These aggressive situations then require public safety crews to respond as law enforcement teams are forced to spend hours cutting or extracting protesters before they are arrested. 

“As the protests increase we are not only splitting our valuable resources between one and two events,” Saxton said, “but now maybe three or four.  It makes it a lot harder to coordinate manpower across the events. We don’t want to leave the folks on the pipeline stranded, but we also want to take care of our community. Usually it’s just accidental or incidental situations that require our involvement. Hopefully people have the sense to seek safety and to stop creating the other kinds of situations that necessitate our involvement.”

Construction work is now more than 60 percent complete and the project is on schedule for completion later this year.  Crews are continuing work on new pump stations, installing sections of pipe, restoring areas where construction is complete.  To complete the project, Enbridge is investing more than $2 billion of private-sector dollars to replace the 337 mile section of the pipeline.  The process started in 2014 during the Obama-Biden Administration and the Line 3 project is now the most reviewed pipeline project in Minnesota history.

This week groups opposed to the project filed a petition asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to review a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision that affirmed permits issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.  While legal challenges continue to not be successful, groups opposed to Line 3 continue to bring in people from around the country to stage aggressive protests designed to disrupt or stop construction activity.

Hundreds of people from outside of Minnesota have been arrested by a task force of law enforcement officers from a number of different agencies.  Celebrities and environmental activists continue to travel to Minnesota to take part in more protests and to encourage others to continue to be arrested, something that frustrates local officials.

“The funny thing is you look at these people and you wonder, how did they get there,” Saxton said.  “They get here through gas and diesel-powered vehicles. If you look at the people in charge of the protest groups, they’re often in high-end clothing, and they’re wearing petroleum-based products, and they just think that stuff just magically gets made. You wish you could just put some common sense into some people.”