Updated: February 20, 2021 06:27 PM
Created: February 19, 2021 02:28 PM
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake says a device that caused an hours-long evacuation of part of the Fond du Lac Reservation on Friday afternoon was not explosive.
Lake said about 40 homes were evacuated after workers on Enbridge's Line 3 Replacement Project reported that protesters had thrown a suspicious device at their construction site and left the area quickly around 12:40 p.m. Protests against the project have been ongoing since it began in December.
The area is along Ditchbank Road in Perch Lake Township on the Fond du Lac Reservation, west of Cloquet. The incident prompted a public safety alert that was sent to phones across a four-county area of northeastern Minnesota.
Residents were allowed to return to their homes shortly after 5 p.m. Lake told reporters late Friday afternoon that no arrests have been made.
"We will press for as many charges, whether federal, state, or local, that we absolutely can. This is obviously a serious event and incident and this will not be tolerated. It caused fear in many residents," Lake said.
"Putting the lives of workers and others at risk is unacceptable. Protestors need to know actions that put people in harm’s way will be prosecuted, and that we are working with the police and other authorities to assure worker safety," Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said.
Kellner said Enbridge shut down its pipelines in the area out of an abundance of caution. They were restarted by 7 p.m. Kellner said two non-explosive devices were removed.
"This incident disrupted not just a pipeline and the delivery of energy, but the lives of real people," Kellner wrote in a statement. "This is unacceptable."
A half-dozen pipelines run through the right-of-way where the new Line 3 is being built.
The Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee said in a statement: "The Reservation Business Committee, as the governing body of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, recognizes that not everybody agrees with its decision to enter into a right-of-way agreement with Enbridge for 13.2 miles within the borders of Fond du Lac. The Reservation Business Committee’s decision was carefully considered and was made through the Band’s sovereign authority. We insist that outside protestors respect that authority."
The initial public safety alert was also set to Aitkin, Pine, and St. Louis counties in error. A subsequent alert said the event was localized within Carlton County.
During the evacuation, the Perch Lake Town Hall was used as a shelter.
WDIO spoke to Willow Councillor, who sought shelter there with her children after being evacuated about the experience.
She said that initially, she got the emergency alert on her phone.
"I was wondering what that noise was because you don’t expect it," Councillor said. "Then when I finally looked, I was like, this is real. Okay."
Then, Councillor and her children were given a ride to the local town hall by police, where they remained for several hours until it was safe to return home.
Councillor said she was grateful she and her children were safe.
Authorities say that this is an ongoing investigation and they are following leaders with local police, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Aprehension and the FBI.
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