MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A chain-link fence fortifies the Minnesota State Capitol once again after state law enforcement officials requested it “out of an abundance of caution” ahead of several events scheduled on capitol grounds this week.

Huge crowds that descended on St. Paul Wednesday to oppose Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 oil pipeline were met with a heightened security presence of state patrol officers lining the barricade around the building. Event organizers said about 2,000 attended.

Nancy Beaulieau, one of the organizers and a co-founder of the RISE Coalition joined others to speak out against the project’s construction, a years-long effort that opponents say intrudes on Indigenous lands and harms the environment.

“We’re saying right now today and every day after that this is not acceptable and we’re going to keep showing up and asserting our treaty rights until we’re heard,” she said.

But having a fence around the capitol, she said, feels like an affront.

“This is our house—all of our houses. We belong here, especially the Native people,” Beaulieau said. “To see this is really oppression on behalf of the state of Minnesota.”

Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said State Patrol asked the Department of Administration to re-install the fence, citing a number of large-scale events scheduled for this week that could draw “thousands.” A similar barricade surrounded the capitol for over a year beginning in May 2020 after George Floyd’s death until June of this year.

“Increased fencing helps the State Patrol protect people and property and doesn’t interfere with permitted, peaceful gatherings occurring at the Capitol,” he said in a statement, declining to elaborate further on any intelligence that led to that decision.

WCCO reached out to Lt. Gov. Flanagan, who chairs a committee tasked with overseeing capitol security, for comment on the new measure. A spokeswoman for the governor’s office said Flanagan and Gov. Tim Walz believe having the fence is a balancing act.

“Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan trust Minnesota’s public safety professionals to ensure that people can exercise their First Amendment rights while keeping the Capitol, its tenants, and demonstrators safe,” Claire Lancaster, the spokeswoman, said.

It is unclear for how long this fence will remain in its place. The Department of Administration said its removal hasn’t been determined. When asked for the cost, the agency said the purchase order is still being finalized but noted the state used emergency purchasing power that allows for expenditures up to $100,000. The fence before this one cost $72,000 to install and remove, a department official said.

In response to Wednesday’s protest, Enbridge Energy in an e-mailed statement said the pipeline replacement is near completion and will be ready to go into service by the end of the year. The company also pointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s recent decline an appealfrom opponents of Line 3, which kept a lower court ruling in place allowing construction to proceed.

“The Line 3 replacement project is safety and maintenance driven, and it replaces a 1960’s era aging pipeline with a safer one made of thicker steel with more advanced coatings, helping to protect Minnesota’s environment for generations to come,” Enbridge said in a statement. “The project is currently providing real world economic benefits for Minnesota counties, small businesses, Native American communities, and union members.”

Separately, there are multiple events scheduled for Saturday at the capitol, including a “medical freedom” rally opposing mask and vaccine mandates.

WCCO reached out to Enbridge Energy for a statement about today’s protest. Here is the full statement they supplied:

Enbridge has already spent well over $287 million Line 3 project dollars specifically with tribal nations, citizens, communities, and contractors. Native American workers make up 7% of the workforce on Line 3. The replacement is nearly complete in Minnesota and expected to be in service in Q4 of this year. Yesterday the Minnesota Supreme Court reaffirmed the lower court’s decision regarding Line 3’s Certificate of Need, Route Permit and Environmental Impact Statement which have been reaffirmed multiple times by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and this June by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The project is currently providing real world economic benefits for Minnesota counties, small businesses, Native American communities, and union members – including creating thousands of family-sustaining construction jobs, and millions of dollars in local spending and tax revenues.

Enbridge has demonstrated ongoing respect for tribal sovereignty. The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently concluded “the commission reasonably selected a route for the replacement pipeline based upon respect for tribal sovereignty, while minimizing environmental impacts.” As the result of negotiations with tribal leadership Line 3 was routed outside of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation and through the Reservation of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Both Leech Lake and Fond du Lac have written in support of project permits. White Earth Nation was also included and invited to be part of the process, and because of their concerns Line 3 was routed outside of the Upper and Lower Rice Lake and its watershed.

The Line 3 replacement project is safety and maintenance driven, and it replaces a 1960’s era aging pipeline with a safer one made of thicker steel with more advanced coatings, helping to protect Minnesota’s environment for generations to come. After six years of science based review and multiple approvals, Line 3 is the most studied pipeline project in Minnesota history. The pipeline has already been replaced in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Enbridge has had offices and operations in the Twin Ports for the past 70 years.

Caroline Cummings