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DNR asks regulators to 'strongly consider' alternative route for pipeline

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On the last day of public comment on a proposed oil pipeline through northern Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources asked state regulators to consider rerouting it.

Thursday the DNR submitted a regulatory filing saying the state Public Utilities Commission should "strongly consider" one of several alternatives to the route proposed by Enbridge Energy for the Sandpiper pipeline.

The $2.6 billion, 610-mile project has already been approved in North Dakota. It would allow oil to be transported by the pipeline from oil-rich western North Dakota through Minnesota and to Superior, Wisconsin, where it could be shipped.

Earlier this month, the PUC voted unanimously to study a new route for the pipeline.

In Minnesota, Enbridge's preferred route runs east from North Dakota over to Clearbrook, then turns south towards Park Rapids and before resuming east.

In a letter to the PUC the DNR says:

"The Preferred Route for the Sandpiper Project is proposed in a region of the state that contains a concentration of important lakes for fisheries, trout streams, sensitive aquifers, public conservation lands, and mineral and forestry resources."

In the letter, the DNR says it's concerned the proposed route could become a "new corridor for multiple pipelines," referencing a plan by Enbridge to rebuild another pipeline along the Sandpiper route.

According to the Star Tribune, Enbridge says the preferred route is the best choice for natural resources.

"It travels along existing utility right of way, is shorter than other proposed alternatives and minimizes impacts on people and the environment," said company spokeswoman Lorraine Little in an e-mailed statement to the newspaper on Friday.

The company estimates the alternatives to the proposed route would add between 74 and 182 miles to the project and cost between $185 and $455 million more to construct. Additionally, Enbridge says the alternatives could delay project completion by three years.

Little says North American refineries want access to the supply of oil from western North Dakota and Canada. They feel the line is "a key, long-term link from North Dakota to a variety of markets."

The company says construction of the pipeline will create 3,000 construction jobs, 1,500 of which would be local hires in Minnesota.

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