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Enbridge Pipeline supporters, opponents pack hearing at Pike Bay Town Hall

CASS LAKE - More than 70 people crammed into a sweltering town hall event Wednesday evening to give testimony and listen to a public hearing on an oil pipeline that passes through much of northwest Minnesota.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, one of the state agencies that regulates pipelines, held the hearing at the Pike Bay Town Hall to give the public an open forum on the expansion project that would see the building of several new pump stations along Enbridge Energy's Line 67, also known as the Alberta Clipper, as well as upgrading existing pump stations. One of the new pump stations would be built in Cass Lake.

Enbridge hopes that when the project is completed in mid 2015, it will increase the pumping capacity of the line to 800,000 barrels of oil per day from tar sands fields in Canada to the terminal in Superior, Wis. and on to refineries across the midwest.

The process of applying for a permit from PUC has lasted for more than a year. However, Kate O' Connell of the Minnesota Department of Commerce said in her opening remarks that Enbridge has yet to demonstrate a clear need in Minnesota for all of this particular phase of the project.

"Despite specific questions from the department ... at the time of our direct testimony, Enbridge Energy had not shown that the proposal to increase capacity to move products out of Minnesota is necessary to meet the needs of Minnesota and neighboring states," O' Connell said.

However, O'Connell noted Enbridge had recently submitted new rebuttal testimony, which the commission is reviewing.

In his opening remarks, Enbridge executive Mark Curwin said an increase in oil coming to the U.S. from from Canada would help avoid a reliance on oil from less friendly countries.

He said Enbridge had looked into other oil shipping options like rail and trucking. They were too expensive and too disruptive, he added.

"The rail option raises public safety issues, and possible disruption of rail services for other sectors of the economy such as commuter rail and agriculture," he said.

Speaking in opposition to the expansion were those concerned with American Indian sovereignty, as well as conservation.

One of the letters received by the commission in support of the project came from Beltrami County Administrator Kay Mack, writing on behalf of the county board.

"As a county board, we often find that people are ready to criticize any project that does not perfectly align with their values," the letter read. "However, in the case of energy resources, we find that those same citizens are significant users of the energy resources that are provided by those they criticize. Quite honestly, we do not have one citizen that does not heavily depend on energy resources."

Beltrami County receives approximately $900,000 in property tax revenue from the company each year.


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