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Police, Line 3 protesters again meet at Backus site

Police work during hot morning to separate locked down protesters blocking Backus staging area.

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Amid ample brown grass and poison ivy in the ditch, Line 3 protesters chanted and shouted encouragement across the road to those who had chained themselves together to blockade entrances to a staging area south of Backus on Highway 87. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

BACKUS — Law enforcement responded to a Line 3 oil pipeline construction staging area Monday, Aug. 23, just south of Backus on Highway 87, where 18 protesters blockaded two entrances on the east side of the road by chaining themselves in the way.

In addition, a vehicle was turned on its side at one of the entrances and protesters secured themselves to it, making arrest more difficult. Those responding included the Cass County Sheriff's Office, Hubbard County Sheriff's Office, Aitkin County Sheriff's Office and Minnesota State Patrol.

"This morning we were notified of protesters trespassing on approaches to the mat yard," said Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch in the early afternoon as arrests were ongoing. "When we got there we located several people locked down to an abandoned vehicle and several other protesters in the road right of way."

Backus First Response was on scene for the safety of police and protesters alike as the hot sun beat down. Responders had water on hand. Backus Fire Department was also on scene to secure the vehicle, which was a hazard that could have fallen on protesters during the event.

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Protesters block off the entrances to the Enbridge Line 3 staging area Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, south of Backus on Highway 87, including some who chained themselves under an upturned vehicle. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

"There have been no injuries," Burch said. "There's been several arrests, but I don't have a number for that yet."

Several were arrested by awaiting law enforcement.

"For the most part they've complied with our requests and stayed off the roadway," Burch said. "We're still working at it."

On the west side of the road at both entrances were groups of protesters shouting chants, taunting and questioning sheriff department involvement and shaming Enbridge and others involved.

Tara Houska, who was present on the west side of the highway, said the protest was to bring attention to several issues. One ongoing complaint is the question of the Line 3 pipeline's impact on treaty lands and the protection of wild rice waters, though other topics were broached as well.

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Vehicles make it difficult to see those chained together at the entrance to an Enbridge Line 3 work site outside Backus, but small gaps offer a view of those chained to an upturned van Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

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"There are hundreds of workers that are out destroying my people's territory," Houska said. "We are bringing awareness to the multiple sex trafficking rings that have had Enbridge employees busted during the construction here in Minnesota. We warned the governor about that. We warned the company about that. We warned everyone about that and it happened."

Houska also brought up the construction of an oil pipeline during this year's drought. Enbridge has been under fire from some groups because of their use of water for the construction.

"The people are here engaging in selfless risk because we are aware of the climate crisis around us," Houska said. "There's been drought conditions and we're in extreme fire dangers across the Northland and Enbridge was approved to take 5 billion gallons of water out of our watersheds to build their tar sands pipeline going through wetlands and untouched areas and ecosystems."

A request for comment from Enbridge was not returned Monday evening.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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