- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) - Enbridge Energy will pay the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota $18.5 million to settle a nearly decade-long dispute over unauthorized use of a small parcel of tribal land.

In a split vote, the Red Lake Tribal Council accepted the Enbridge settlement in late December. The settlement pays for less than a half-acre of land and restitution for 65 years of unauthorized use, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1NXOXxC ) reported.

“This is really a windfall for the tribe,” Red Lake Executive Administrator Charles Dolson said. “It’s a total win for us.”

Starting in 1950, Lakehead Pipeline - now owned by Enbridge - laid four oil pipelines through a small isolated section of Red Lake land. The tribe never gave the company permission and was never paid for use of the land.

The parcel, known as Lot 8, is 20 miles south of the main Red Lake Indian Reservation, near the town of Leonard. It was part of 3 million acres originally ceded by the tribe in 1889. The U.S. government sold off pieces of that land for half a century, and returned the remaining lots to the tribe in 1945.

But Lot 8 was lost in legal paperwork. A nearby landowner thought it was part of his land, and received easements when the pipelines came through.

In 2007, a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs legal team was working to clarify the borders of tribal land when it realized Red Lake still legally owned Lot 8, meaning four Enbridge pipelines had trespassed on tribal land for decades.

At first, Canada-based Enbridge offered $350,000 to settle the dispute. In 2011, Red Lake asked for $10 million, which is roughly the cost of moving the pipelines off the property, but Enbridge turned the tribe down

Dolson said the $18.5 million is the best settlement the tribe could have hoped for. Taking the settlement will save the tribe more years of costly court battles, he said. As part of the deal, Enbridge also agreed to buy Red Lake another piece of land.

Instead of accepting the deal, Dolson said, some tribal members wanted Red Lake to leverage the piece of land to bog Enbridge down with lawsuits and force the company to either move its pipelines or halt the flow of oil entirely.

“We might have been able to make them move the pipelines,” Dolson said. “But the oil never would have stopped flowing.”

In a statement, Enbridge said the company was pleased to reach an agreement with Red Lake and appreciated the tribe’s willingness to resolve the issue.

“This agreement and land swap will allow both parties to meet our present and future interests in this property,” Enbridge said.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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