PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — A summer of ramped-up opposition to the Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota kicked off Monday, June 7, as some 1,000 opponents began protesting and disrupting construction work, starting with a blockade at the entrance of an Enbridge Energy pump station south of Itasca State Park.

Protesters say around two dozen people have locked themselves to construction equipment with two goals: to delay work on the pipeline and send a message to President Joe Biden to stop Line 3.

Protesters were using a boat on a trailer to block the entrance to the pump station.

The law enforcement presence has been minimal so far, with some Hubbard County sheriff’s deputies nearby along with some Minnesota State Patrol troopers and Department of Natural Resources officers.

At one point, however, a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter flew in very low to try to flush out demonstrators from the site. It hovered about 20 feet off the ground, blowing up sand and dirt aggressively. A loudspeaker broadcast warned people they would be arrested if they didn’t leave the area.

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Protesters said there were about a dozen workers at the site in the morning who left once they saw the mass of people coming.

An activist runs from a Department of Homeland Security helicopter's rotor wash as it stirs up grass and dirt at an occupied pump station near Park Rapids, Minn., Monday, June 7, 2021. (Evan Frost / MPR News)
An activist runs from a Department of Homeland Security helicopter's rotor wash as it stirs up grass and dirt at an occupied pump station near Park Rapids, Minn., Monday, June 7, 2021. (Evan Frost / MPR News)

Enbridge said 44 workers work at the Two Inlets pump station site, including about 10 employees of Gordon Construction, a Native American-owned business based on the White Earth reservation.

"Our workforce stood down, had to be evacuated, left the site. That’s in our effort to de-escalate. But since then people have locked on to equipment. Damage has been done. It’s hurtful," said Paul Eberth, director of tribal engagement for Enbridge.

About 500 Native Americans have worked on the project to date, he noted.

Besides the pump site, organizers say an estimated 700 people have gathered to pray and protest near the headwaters of the Mississippi, at one of the points where Line 3 crosses the water, close to the DNR’s La Salle Lake Scientific and Natural Area.

The new Line 3 is a 340-mile pipeline replacement project that Enbridge Energy is building along a new route across northern Minnesota. Enbridge argues that replacing the existing Line 3 with new, more modern technology is safer and will reduce the likelihood of spills.

Protests this week began over the weekend as part of the Treaty People Gathering, an organized effort based at White Earth, which has featured speeches, rallies and coordinated acts of civil disobedience.