The four activists calling themselves the “Four Necessity Valve Turners” of the Catholic Worker Movement who were arrested after trying to shut down an Enbridge oil pipeline at a valve site in Blackberry Township on Monday have been charged with felony level aiding and abetting attempted damage to property.
According to Itasca County Attorney Matti Adam, Michele Naar, 62, of Duluth; Taner Yildirim, 32, of Viroqua, Wis.; Brenna Anglada, 41, of Cuba City, Wis.; and Elyse Polman, 26, of Denton, Texas, made their first appearance in district court on Wednesday. The maximum penalty for the felony crimes is five years in prison and fines up to $10,000. The four were also charged with misdemeanor level aiding and abetting attempted criminal damage to property. They have been ordered to appear back in court on Feb. 19.
The criminal complaint states that on Feb. 4, at approximately 1 p.m., Itasca County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a report of possible protestors attempting to shut off a pipeline at an Enbridge pipeline valve site near Highway 2 in the Blackberry area. The site was surrounded by a chain link fence and topped with barbed wire. The four individuals had cut a lock off a chain on the gate to gain entrance to the valve and placed a new padlock on the chain after locking themselves inside the fenced area.
Prior to shutting the valve off, the individuals had called Enbridge to warn the company of their plans to turn off Line 4. The activists had also posted a Facebook Live video during the incident showing themselves trying to close an emergency shut-off valve, before being escorted into the sheriff’s vehicles.
“Having exhausted all legal and political avenues, we find it necessary to take this direct action of turning off the flow of poisonous tar sands oil,” “Four Necessity” posted on Facebook.
The activists said Enbridge remotely shut off Line 4 pipeline. After the incident, Enbridge confirmed that no oil was spilled.
Enbridge calls the “pipeline tampering incident” something that put people and the environment at risk.
“The actions taken to trespass on our facility and tamper with energy infrastructure were reckless and dangerous,” Juli Kellner, a representative for Enbridge, wrote. “The people involved claimed to be protecting the environment, but they did the opposite. Their actions put themselves, first responders, neighboring communities and landowners at risk. While we respect the rights of individuals to safely express their views on the energy we all use, we take these matters very seriously and support the prosecution of all those involved.”
The Canada-based Enbridge currently runs six pipelines across northern Minnesota to its terminal in Superior, Wisc.
The recent incident comes nearly a year after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a $2.6 billion plan to replace the aged and corroding Line 3 with a new pipeline. The decision was made last June despite opposition from environmental groups and tribal leaders in the state who argued that a possible oil spill could damage rivers and lakes throughout the state.
Enbridge, which still needs to acquire several state and federal permits, has since announced plans to begin construction on Line 3 in the spring and finish the project by November.
Three years ago, activists from Seattle broke into Enbridge property near Bemidji and turned off valves on two pipelines. Last October, a judge from Clearwater County threw out charges of felony property damage due to lack of evidence.