Cops Clamp Down on Bemidji Pipeline Protesters

The bad manners on display by pipeline protesters in North Dakota the past few months appear to have inspired their counterparts across the border this week in northern Minnesota.

But maybe law enforcement agencies also learned a thing or two from the decisive action taken by their peers on the Dakota Access Pipeline, judging from the outcome of a publicity stunt by pipeline protesters in Bemidji on Tuesday.

The incident unfolded at an open meeting held at a hotel by Enbridge pipeline company to outline plans to replace an aging oil pipeline that runs through northern Minnesota.

Before long, however, environmental activist Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth began disrupting the proceedings, waving her arms and shouting questions at the cell phones and cameras pointed her way.blogbanner

It pays for LaDuke to protest. IRS forms show Honor the Earth paid LaDuke $127,000 in total compensation for working 20 hours a week in 2015. But her choreographed confrontation for the media ended almost as quickly as it began, thanks to three police officers already on hand.

LaDuke, who founded the Native-led environmentalist group Honor the Earth, and other activists hoped to ask Enbridge questions regarding the maintenance of the old pipeline if it is replaced with a new one. A Bemidji police officer asked LaDuke to leave after she and other activists tried to quiet the tightly-packed room about 15 minutes after the meeting began.

…As the officer repeatedly told LaDuke to leave, saying he had been asked to do so by Enbridge, others in the crowd took video, telling the officer that it was a public meeting and that LaDuke should be allowed to stay and speak.

In fact, the proposed replacement pipeline would significantly improve environmental protections along its route from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge hopes to have it up and running by 2019. But the audience lost out on the chance to learn more when Enbridge quickly shut down the meeting following LaDuke’s antics.

Enbridge public relations representative Shannon Gustafson said the company had little choice.

Enbridge personnel left the room as the officer asked LaDuke to leave. Gustafson later said Enbridge had asked three police officers to be present. Three officers—two in uniform, one in plain clothes—were inside the room during the meeting.

Once the meeting disbanded, more officers appeared in the hallway, one in a Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office uniform. Seven law enforcement vehicles were parked outside the hotel.

“It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to continue having the conversations that we came here to have,” Gustafson said, adding, “We think public input is so important in our operations and our projects. We value all opinions, all input.”

Gustafson later released a statement that characterized the activists as “disrespectful.”

“We are disappointed that our meeting with community members to discuss our Line 3 Replacement Project in Bemidji tonight ended early when a group became disrespectful and it was no longer safe or productive to continue,” she wrote.

As for the second community meeting scheduled for Clearbrook the next day? Cancelled until further notice, much like the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline that Enbridge walked away from in September after years of protests and delays by Minnesota regulators.