ST. PAUL - For some Northland residents, the approval of a new oil pipeline was reason to celebrate. For others, it was reason to grieve.
As Public Utilities Commission members indicated their support for the Enbridge Line 3 replacement pipeline Thursday afternoon, June 28, pipeline opponents poured out of the hearing room in tears, embracing each other.
"It's bringing out those emotional responses from people who have been traumatized over generations," Anna Marie Yliniemi of Duluth said as she watched people exit the hearing room.
Outside St. Paul's Metro Square, opponents gathered in a circle to share frustrations about the PUC and Enbridge. On the edge of the circle, Theresa Diver, a Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa member, served homemade wild rice soup and fry bread.
Diver, who provided food during all of the hearings, said it's her way of lending support - and an extension of her role as mother and grandmother.
"We all come together with food," Diver said. "Food can be a happy place for some people. Food can sustain us at this time."
Jim Northrup III, also a member of the Fond du Lac Band, said the hearings were "just a show," as was the frustration expressed by commissioners over the final vote.
"They already knew their decision, but they had to make it look good," Northrup said.
Pipeline supporters sporting white and green T-shirts were well-represented, and several were members of groups such as Minnesotans for Line 3, which called the decision "an important milestone for Minnesota's energy infrastructure and the state's economy."
Brent Straus of Hermantown, a business development manager with United Piping Inc., has attended all of this week's hearings in support of the new pipeline. Standing in line before hearings began Thursday morning, Straus said he made the trip to St. Paul "to show support for our local economy."
If his company can build several portions of the pipeline, the project could employ several hundred of his colleagues, Straus explained.
"Even the people that are for the pipeline still like the environment," Straus said. "We all want clean water to drink."
During a news conference organized by opponents, Jim Reents of the Northern Water Alliance of Minnesota said he was not surprised but was disappointed by the PUC's decision.
"We are most disappointed in the fact that the hearings over the last two weeks have become a negotiation between the applicant and the commission," Reents said. "And it makes a mockery of the review of the contested case hearing and administrative law judge."
Protests started early Thursday. At 7 a.m. as Line 3 supporters and opponents lined up for tickets to the PUC's hearings, Ben Johansen erected a 25-foot tall tripod on Seventh Street, blocking traffic, then suspended himself in a harness at the top.
For three hours, he sat at the top of the tripod with a sheet that warned Enbridge and PUC officials to "Expect Resistance" if Line 3 was approved. Members of the St. Paul police and fire departments stood below, watching him until pipeline supporters and opponents filed into the building to watch the hearings.
By then, officials negotiated an end to his protest, and he returned to the ground where he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for public nuisance, according to Ramsey County. Police who kept his tripod and sign for evidence.
Northrup, who was in St. Paul for every hearing, stood below the tripod outside the Metro Square building holding a sign that read "Respect our treaties. Stop Line 3."
"I want the commissioners to know we're here," Northrup said.
Supporters of the pipeline had the same idea.
News Tribune reporter Brooks Johnson contributed to this report.