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Protesters 'attack' attorney general's home to oppose Enbridge pipeline

MIDLAND, MI — A group of protesters descended on Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s home in Midland Wednesday, July 6, in what a spokeswoman from his office called “a cowardly attack.”

A group of about 40 people arrived at the attorney general’s house, located near the intersection of Dublin and Wackerley, Wednesday afternoon and started pounding on doors and windows, according to a statement released by Schuette’s office.

“This was a cowardly attack by professional protesters whose car license plates mostly appeared to be from out of state,” Press Secretary Andrea Bitely wrote in the statement.

The group Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, together with Earth First!, claimed responsibility for the protests in a press release issued Wednesday evening.

The purpose of the protest, according to the press release, was to demand Schuette take immediate action to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 crude oil pipeline, which crosses the Straits of Mackinac.

The 63-year-old pipeline crosses the straits west of the Mackinac Bridge. It has been surrounded by controversy in recent years because of what a spill could do to the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes in general.

“Schuette knows Line 5 poses an immediate risk to the Great Lakes each day it is allowed to continue to operate, and yet he’s choosing to stall for another 1-2 years,” the press release states. “Schuette is directly threatening all of life in our region and is putting us all at risk and we are going to bring the fight to his front lawn until he is held accountable.”

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The attorney general’s wife, Cynthia Schuette, was home alone at the time protesters arrived, according to Bitely.

“Obviously, the attack was unnerving at first, being totally unexpected and coming with such a large force with total strangers pounding directly on the doors and windows of their home,” she wrote.

Midland police, Midland County sheriff’s deputies and Michigan State Police troopers responded to a call about the protesters at Schuette’s home at 2:29 p.m. Wednesday.

Just three minutes earlier, police had been dispatched to a related complaint — a billboard along eastbound U.S. 10 that had been covered by a banner.

At the home, protesters placed signs in the lawn, chanted, held banners and conducted a mock funeral for Enbridge.

Hours later, a Midland police officer and a Michigan State Police trooper patrolled the neighborhood while a crew from Shine Window Cleaning washed an “unknown substance” left by the protesters from the home’s driveway.

The unknown substance was likely intended to simulate spilled oil, according to Bitely.

Items left at the scene made it clear the group was protesting the oil pipeline, according to a press release from the Midland Police Department.

“Contact was made with some of them, positive identifications were made with some of them,” Midland Police Lt. Mike Sokol said.

But Sokol said police were not able to identify any group behind the protest.

“Just looking at license plate tags, it appeared they were from all over the country,” he said. “Maryland, Oregon and every other state in between.”

The protest group claims an environmental coalition of over 20 environmental groups sent Attorney General Schuette a letter detailing multiple ways in which Line 5 is operating illegally, in violation of its 1953 easement with the State of Michigan.

“Despite this, Schuette continues to delay action on the pipeline, citing the desire to wait for a risk and alternatives analysis for the pipeline to be completed, which is expected to take months to years,” the release states.

Bitely labeled the incident as “an outrageous attempt to intimidate and bully the Schuette family and the people of Michigan.”

“If the issue at hand is actually Line 5 and not just an excuse to use professional protesters to intimidate state officials and the people of Michigan, this type of reckless and violent behavior was even more illogical since the attorney general has made clear the pipeline is a risk and is working hard with all groups involved to find a public policy solution that protects the Great Lakes,” she wrote in the statement. “Violence and intimidation has no place in this situation or any other.”

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The group at Schuette’s home dispersed quickly after police arrived, though it took about 45 minutes for a group near the intersection of Wackerly and Dublin to disperse, according to police.

“They dispersed peacefully,” Sokol said.

He said the group had a liaison that spoke with police and helped convince the group to comply with officers’ orders.

No arrests were made and both incidents remain under investigation.

Sokol said there was nothing that would amount to criminal vandalism and that the property owner merely requested anyone trespassing on private property be removed.

Ultimately, he said, it will be up to the city attorney or prosecutor to determine whether to pursue charges against those identified as involved in the incident.

The final sentence in the statement provided by the protesters was interpreted, at least by Bitely, as a veiled threat.

In the release, it is posed as a quote from a Michigan resident named “Frida” participating in the protest who “commented on the escalation of tactics” related to protesting at Schuette’s private residence.

“If public officials continue to threaten our safety, then we will continue to threaten their security.”

Sokol said officials are taking precautionary steps to ensure the safety of the attorney general and his family, though he declined to go into further detail.

“It’s being taken care of,” he said.

Anyone with information regarding the protests is asked to call the Midland Police Department at 989-839-4713.

Mark Tower covers local government for MLive/The Saginaw News. Contact him at 989-284-4807, by email at mtower@mlive.com or follow him on TwitterFacebook or Google+.

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