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Pipeline protest takes new approach: Enbridge’s Line 5 latest to be scrutinized

ASHLAND, Wis. — Another protest of an Enbridge pipeline will come with a twist Saturday, Sept. 2, when people gather to play lacrosse atop a line buried in the Wisconsin's Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Organized by a group called Save the Water's Edge, the food and games begin at noon along Forest Road 237 in Bayfield County.

The protesters' beef relates to the 2013 expiration of a permit for Enbridge Line 5, say organizers who are calling for the pipeline to be removed from the forest.

"The crux of this whole thing is taking care of the water," said Frank Koehn, 72, of Ashland, in announcing the event earlier this week. "We're at the age where chaining ourselves to anything doesn't make sense. We needed to take a different approach and out of this came the idea of lacrosse."

Enbridge spokeswoman Becky Haase said the company, based in Canada with offices in Superior, Wisconsin, "is working with the U.S. National Forest Service to renew the special use permit for the approximately 12 miles Line 5 crosses through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest."

The Forest Service has allowed for continued use following the agreement of the previous permit, Haase said.

Line 5 originates in Superior and terminates in Sarnia, Ontario. It transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids used to heat homes, fuel vehicles and enable manufacturing, Haase said.

"Enbridge has operated Line 5 safely since 1953," she said.

Line 5 also has drawn scrutiny from Michigan officials and environmental groups in recent months for its segment that passes beneath the Straits of Mackinac where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet.

'The message ... is congealing'

Earlier this week, six protesters identifying themselves as water protectors were arrested in Douglas County, near the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line, where they'd disrupted segments of Enbridge's Line 3 construction three times in nine days by locking onto large excavators while broadcasting the protests live on social media.

The protesters were charged with trespassing and other misdemeanor counts, and ordered to have no contact with Enbridge properties or employees. All six have been released after posting bond.

Richard Ketring is a downtown business owner in Ashland and among the organizers of today's protest in Bayfield County. He's paid attention to the recent protests in Douglas County and said the messages from disparate groups about protecting water are coalescing.

"The message is rather rough around the edges but it is congealing and that is: It's about time to stop — enough already selling the quality of our water off for profit for foreign corporations that own mining companies, own the damn pipeline and now own CAFOs," Ketring said, citing the concentrated animal feeding operations that have raised citizens' concerns in watersheds throughout Wisconsin, including a proposed CAFO in Bayfield County near the Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior. "It's an industrialization that has gone beyond sensibility."

The choice to use the game of lacrosse as protest, Koehn said, is rooted in its history with Native Americans and the experience of several Save the Water's Edge participants who attended the 2016 Standing Rock protest to try and stop the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. Those protests included months of communal living and prayerful ceremonies, but also clashes between protesters and authorities that alarmed Koehn and company.

"It was the first time I'd seen razor wire," Koehn said. "It stuck in my mind, and many of us there had the same feeling that we need to do something differently here."

Organizers will have plenty of game equipment on hand and corn on the cob, while expecting a potluck atmosphere.

"I have no idea how many people will come," Koehn said. "We just want to have fun and do something out there on the pipeline that gets people thinking."

Most recently, in late July, the Forest Service held a public meeting on the renewal of Enbridge's special use permit. Koehn and others attended, calling for, at the very least, an environmental impact statement to be part of the renewal process. Such is not expected to be the case.

In 2014, an Enbridge letter to the Forest Service called the permit expiration an "oversight," which was "overlooked" due to "considerable personnel turnover within our pipeline operational staff." The letter, found on the Forest Service website, advocated Enbridge as "a good caretaker and partner," and requested renewal of the special use permit for what is a 30-inch line and pump station also within the forest boundaries.

Since then, Haase said the request has been part of a backlog of applications in process for renewal.

"We recognize there are different points of view on the energy we all use and support a respectful and constructive dialogue on the issues of climate change and responsible resource development — issues that affect all Americans," she said.

But it was Ketring's conclusion that the time has come for another way forward.

"Our biggest concerns," he said, "are concerns about the water."